ST. PAUL, MINN.-The humid streets of the Twin Cities were relatively quiet Monday morning, just hours before the Republican National Convention (RNC) was set to begin at the Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul, Minn.
Late Sunday afternoon, Sen. John McCain directed convention planners to scale back the agenda for Monday evening's opening session, saying a celebratory event with political rhetoric would be inappropriate with Hurricane Gustav threatening to wreak havoc on a beleaguered Gulf Coast.
Monday morning here was a stark contrast to the first day of last week's Democratic National Convention in Denver, where animal-rights activists in pig suits and anti-war protesters in black hoods roamed the packed downtown streets.
Things heated up here by lunchtime at an anti-war rally at the Capitol that brought out some 10,000 protesters. Still, that number was tens of thousands less than the 50,000 people some rally organizers predicted would show up.
Elsewhere downtown, only a handful of protesters were easily spotted on the dramatically less-crowded streets, and even the protesters were tame: A man in neatly pressed khaki shorts and a bright yellow polo shirt quietly carried a handmade sign that read, "Restore Reason: Reject the Republican Agenda." At a nearby coffee shop, a lone man in a Harley Davidson jacket ordered a latte and asked where to find protesters. No one knew.
A few blocks away at the Minneapolis Convention Center, Republican officials were busy putting finishing touches on an assembly center for comfort packages to aid Gulf Coast residents affected by Gustav. RNC spokesperson Joanna Burgos said convention planners are working with Target, FedEx, and the Red Cross to assemble 80,000 care packages for Gulf Coasters.
The assembly center is one part of an intense Republican effort to avoid the kind of fumbled response that dogged the federal government in Hurricane Katrina's wake. President Bush cancelled his appearance at the convention Monday night and instead headed to Texas to monitor the unfolding situation. Laura Bush met with the Louisiana delegation here in Minneapolis Monday morning to assess their needs.
At the Xcel Center, RNC officials set up an information center for delegates affected by the storm, and the McCain campaign chartered a small plane to transport delegates wishing to return to the Gulf Coast. Republican officials said some Louisiana delegates brought their families to Minneapolis, allowing the convention to serve as their evacuation site.
As Hurricane Gustav weakened to a Category 2 storm before making landfall, and New Orleans appeared to avoid a direct hit, Republicans were bracing for another potential storm-news that Bristol Palin, the 17-year-old daughter of McCain's freshly picked running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, is five months pregnant.
Campaign officials said they knew about Bristol's pregnancy before McCain offered Gov. Palin a spot on the ticket. Palin said Bristol plans to marry the baby's father, and that she and her husband are "proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby, and even prouder to become grandparents."
A couple of hours later, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins released a statement responding to the news, saying teenage pregnancy is an all-too-common problem, regardless of a family's economic or social status.
"Fortunately, Bristol is following her mother and father's example of choosing life in the midst of a difficult situation," said Perkins. "We are committed to praying for Bristol and her husband-to-be and the entire Palin family as they walk through a very private matter in the eyes of the public."
Both McCain and Palin are scheduled to address the convention delegates later this week, and RNC officials monitoring Hurricane Gustav remain hopeful the convention will resume its planned activities as the week unfolds.
The scheduled appearance is particularly important for Palin, who burst onto the national scene just last week when McCain stunned pundits and politicians alike by announcing she would be his running mate.
That decision has delighted many evangelicals and social conservatives who had been wary of supporting McCain. Monday morning at a forum on faith and politics at the University of Minnesota, Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Church, told WORLD that McCain "hit a grand-slam" with Palin's nomination.
Land said his email box has brimmed over with more than 300 messages since Friday, mostly from evangelicals excited about Palin's candidacy. "The enthusiasm question is gone," he said. "They [evangelicals] are as excited about this candidacy as they were about George W. Bush."