Washington Matters


Gustav Could be a Wind That Helps GOP


St. Paul, Minnesota -- It's not what they wanted, planned for or expected. But for Republicans, if handled well, the hurricane bearing down on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast provides an opportunity.

The Republican convention will be curtailed and lack the usual party hoopla. Hurricane Gustav has taken the oxygen out of  the convention party in St. Paul before it began. But Gustav may, in its own way, actually inflate the party's prospects in a year that has given it plenty to be worried about.

For one, it gives Republicans, whose theme in Minnesota is service to country, a chance to forgo spectacular balloon drops and shrimp-cocktail VIP receptions and the certain comparisons to the historic Democratic convention. Better for them, it allows McCain and the GOP to focus on an urgent domestic crisis that has no partisan roots or bearing.

Democrats won't manage this crisis. A Republican government will, under command of a president clearly eager to restore a domestic security legacy after the failings before, during and after Hurricane Katrina three years ago .

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While the destructive path of this storm is yet uncertain, the pro-active move by the Bush administration (with McCain on the ground as well) to prepare in advance and to pull all emergency parts of the government and military together will be noted. There will be some scenes of destruction that will remind voters of the Katrina catastrophe. But charges of rank government incompetence, I bet not.

The storm may have thrown the convention into a tailspin, forcing planners to revamp the schedule, but it may also provide some lift to a candidate whose chief claim is he is ready and prepared for the unknown. Convention delegates and others may smartly use the opportunity as a relief fundraiser for the battered-again Gulf Coast. Democrats will only have the opportunity to watch, and they criticize an unexpected, complicated and urgent and full government effort at their peril.

Ultimately, this is also President Bush's chance to deliver a gift to McCain far more important and useful than a convention speech.

 




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