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Hurricane Gustav rains on GOP party

September 01, 2008|P.J. Huffstutter and James Hohmann | Times Staff Writers

ST. PAUL, MINN. — Hurricane Gustav rained on the Republicans' parade Sunday, dampening the mood among delegates from states on the Gulf Coast and far away.

Many long-planned welcoming receptions went on -- subdued by several notches -- at bars, hotels and ballrooms around the Twin Cities on Sunday night, as delegates adjusted to the new and unexpectedly somber tone.

"There's disappointment from this standpoint: Most people came with the expectation of a celebratory convention," said Philip Bryan, spokesman for the Alabama Republican Party. "But most people understand that the hardship people in the Gulf area are going through far outweighs the excitement of seeing President Bush and Vice President Cheney."

At the Louisiana delegation's Crowne Plaza hotel in a suburb of Minneapolis, the sound of ringing cellphones filled the air. Clusters of worried delegates curled up in overstuffed brown leather chairs, talking to one another about who was staying and who was heading home.

They cheered when news came that Sen. John McCain had chartered a DC-9 plane for members of the Gulf Coast delegations to fly to Jackson, Miss. The plane left a private airport in the Minneapolis area Sunday afternoon.

With a mandatory evacuation from New Orleans, some decided there wasn't much they could do if they went back.

Lloyd Harsch, an alternate delegate who lives in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans, and his wife spent the last few days clearing out the pantry and refrigerator, boarding up their home and hauling their valuables to high ground. When Hurricane Katrina struck, their home was heavily flooded; they lost everything.

"I'd love to be home, but if I were going back to New Orleans, I'd be arrested," said Harsch, 47, an assistant professor of church history at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. "I figured that, right now, I'm at the best place I can be."

The few Louisiana delegates who did return home were those who felt they could help with the emergency response. State Sen. A.G. Crowe represents St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes, both of which were devastated by Katrina, and delegation officials said he returned to help manage the response.

A return trip by the chartered plane was scheduled for late in the night. Several traveled on the plane to pick up children and relatives -- then ride back to the Twin Cities.

Delegates from states not in the storm's path struggled with how they should react. While expressing sympathy for the displaced, many said the show must go on.

Megan Weigand, a spokeswoman for the Ohio delegates, said they were going ahead with Ohio Sen. George V. Voinovich's planned boat cruise to Harriet Island on Sunday. They were not sure whether a party today featuring a circus performance would be canceled.

"It's all work to begin with," said Matthew McAuliffe, a grim-faced delegate from Dublin, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. "We'll celebrate on Nov. 4."



Times staff writer Doyle McManus contributed to this report.

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