(NAM Executive Vice President Jay Timmons blogged last week from the Democratic Convention in Denver, and this week he contributes his observations from the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.)
With Hurricane Gustav bearing down on New Orleans, the entire tenor of the 2008 Republican Convention has changed. Already dedicated to “service,” the focus of convention activities is now on how attendees, and all Americans, can assist in easing the fallout of the storm.
Many events are still on the schedule, but instead of celebrations and parties, organizers are instead turning them into fundraisers for charitable causes that will assist potential victims in the Gulf region. Discussions on how to change the direction and focus of convention activities began on Saturday as the storm gathered strength and appeared to be on a path similar to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. On the way into a Saturday reception honoring the CEO of the convention, Maria Cino, ABC News (Brian Ross reporting) was attempting to unfairly denigrate attendees prior to the storm. When asked if it was appropriate to attend such an event two days before the storm had reached land, I responded “I think if the hurricane hits New Orleans there will definitely be a lot of change of plans.”
And change there has been. Those who know Maria Cino know she is one of the few professionals who could turn around years of planning on a dime. The official session today has been shortened to focus on the mandatory business of the convention (democracy must proceed and the party must nominate its candidate in order for him to appear on the ballot in November) and to hear appeals from First Lady Laura Bush and Cindy McCain for assistance for those in harm’s way. President Bush and Vice President Cheney, who were both scheduled to address the convention today, instead focused on the hurricane, working with State and local officials and deploying FEMA resources prior to impact.
As a member of the American Red Cross National Capital Area Board of Directors, I have been working with organizers of some events to help them change the focus and make them opportunities to raise funds for the Red Cross, which is the first to respond in a natural disaster. Volunteers who had come to Minneapolis to party are now assembling relief packages that will be soon shipped to the impacted area.
It’s the right thing to do and Republican convention officials and the McCain campaign have responded admirably to a difficult situation.