ST. PAUL, Minn. — First Lady Laura Bush and Cindy McCain, wife of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, will address the GOP convention Monday to cap a day of GOP fundraising and relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Gustav.
The last-minute additions of Bush and McCain were also a signal that the GOP convention could be inching back to its original purpose — to promote the candidacy of John McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Monday's evening program, which was to feature President Bush and Vice President Cheney, was canceled because McCain and other GOP officials thought it would be inappropriate to conduct partisan activities when the Gulf coast was being slammed by a hurricane.
But McCain campaign manager Rick Davis was more upbeat about plans for getting the convention back on track Tuesday, saying he was "more optimistic than we were a day ago."
McCain is scheduled to make his acceptance speech Thursday and Davis said "there's no contingency planning at this point that would have him outside the city" to make that address.
Resuming the convention's regular business Tuesday, when keynote speaker Rudolph Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, is scheduled to appear, would give the GOP the best of both political worlds:
It would have shown the nation that it was compassionate on Monday_ and avoided having the unpopular Bush make a prime-time appearance to put his face on the convention's start. Then the GOP will be free to spend the rest of the week trying to demonize Democratic opponent Barack Obama.
But Monday was still not a day for partisan politics at the GOP convention site. Mrs. Bush, who will speak at 4:50 P.M. CDT, is to introduce a video featuring Gulf state governors thanking the GOP delegates for their hurricane-relief efforts. Cindy McCain will follow with similar, brief remarks.
Republicans are trying hard to erase the memory of the Bush administration's handling of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath. The response to the 2005 storm sent Bush's popularity plunging to levels he's never been able to raise.
Laura Bush conceded Monday that "there were lots of mistakes, and they were on every level" during Katrina.
She told CBS News in an interview "they were local, they were statewide, and there were certainly federal mistakes, but we learned from those." She would not detail the mistakes.
McCain began his day in Waterville, Ohio, touring an emergency response facility, while running mate Palin was in St. Paul but not expected to make any public appearances.
"Gov. Palin is working on her speech for the convention," said Davis, who quickly added: "We're confident there will be a speech at the convention."
On the Democratic side, presidential nominee Barack Obama was briefed about the storm and its potential impact by Herbie Johnson, deputy director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Obama was scheduled to hold an evening campaign event in Milwaukee and then return to Chicago to monitor the hurricane's progress before deciding on further campaign events.
Obama also sent a text message to supporters, urging them to give at least $5 each to the Red Cross. Vice presidential candidate Joe Biden canceled his appearance at a Pittsburgh Labor Day parade so he could keep an eye on storm developments.
In St. Paul, Monday was a day for helping storm victims, as the GOP launched an elaborate effort. It set up a Gulf states working group, chaired by delegation heads from those states, and an "affected states information center," where delegates could get the latest weather updates and relief information.
Convention officials also offered charter plane transportation to Gulf state delegates who wanted to go home. Texas Gov. Rick Perry was organizing a prayer service at St. Paul's Central Presbyterian Church.
Republicans also mobilized their volunteer and fundraising network. Volunteers will gather at the Minneapolis Convention Center and aim to create and ship 80,000 "comfort packages" to affected areas. Packages should include toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, snack bags and other items.
Phone banks will be set up at the Minneapolis Hilton Hotel where people will call donors.
Davis would not set a fundraising goal, saying "the last thing we want to do is take credit for a specific amount of money raised."
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