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US Election Beat: Convention diary
Al Jazeera's daily analysis of all the news from the US presidential election.
Last Modified: 05 Sep 2008 15:54 GMT

Welcome to a special convention edition of US Election Beat, Al Jazeera's daily analysis of what's happening in the US presidential elections as voters prepare to elect the 44th president of the United States.

With news, views and a healthy degree of scepticism, we'll be bringing you the latest from Al Jazeera's teams at the Democratic and Republican conventions.

Camille Elhassani, St Paul, Minnesota,  September 5

John McCain formally accepted the Republican nomination for president on Thursday night.

In his speech, he talked about change, fixing broken Washington, and his love for the US. 

He said: "I understand who I work for. I don't work for a party. I don't work for a special interest. I don't work for myself. I work for you."

McCain stayed away from George Bush, the current US president, and tried to connect with the plight of regular people.

The New York Times newspaper says he "sounded the call of insurgents seeking to topple the establishment, even though their party heads the establishment".

The speech was by all accounts a bit "blah", as McCain had foreshadowed, but it was as good a speech as McCain has ever given.  The crowd cheered, but was not overly exuberant. 

A convention success

The convention was a success, largely due to Sarah Palin, the vice-presidential candidate and Alaskan governor who upstaged the big guy.

Most of the other speakers were an auditory sleeping pill. The Wall Street Journal analyses the week thusly: "McCain leaves the convention having advanced his cause on one key front: Governor Palin clearly has energised the party's core of social and cultural conservatives."

"Whether the convention has made much difference beyond that depends on how the nation digests both McCain's own speech and the Palin pick more broadly."

The line to see McCain outside the Xcel Centre - in St Paul, Minnesota where the convention took place - was full of women in cocktail dresses and men in nice suits but there was not much of a wait time (much shorter lines than for Palin's speech). 

The crowd was by in large older, affluent, and excited for their man. The faithful were there to enjoy the party, even if it was a bit more reserved than party-goers at the Democratic National Convention.

A few anti-war protesters created a distraction inside the arena during McCain's speech. He handled it with wit.

Final countdown

And so now the general election begins: Reset the clocks, retool the message, and start sprinting. 

The four warriors are in the ring and will spend the next 60 days wrestling with each other in the battleground states. 

USA Today writes about the final sprint: "Democrats calculate that the presidential election will turn on bread-and-butter issues. To judge by their speeches at the convention, Republicans are convinced it will be defined by questions of character and trust."

And so, the things to watch for in the coming two months are firstly the "ad-wars", where every sentence of every speech dissected into an attack on the other guy.

Secondly, Palin versus Clinton, starting on Monday. Hillary Clinton goes on the stump for Obama, and she will tell women that Palin is no Clinton Three. 

And finally, "uber-fundraising". The Republican convention and McCain have around $200 million (including the $84 million in federal funds) and Obama has raised about $400 million so far. 

Both sides will continue to rake in the cash. 

US Election Beat, meanwhile, will be back on Monday from Washington DC.

Riz Khan, St Paul, Minnesota,  September 5

On Thursday, like birds in flight, three elderly ladies stood with their arms outstretched waiting to be scanned with a metal detector.

Meanwhile, my senior producer waited patiently as a security guard dug deep into her bag to pull out the five Al Jazeera coffee mugs which, she was told, were not allowed into the Xcel Energy Centre – the venue of the Republican National Convention 2008.

Apparently, they presented a threat – not for the brand they carried printed on them, but because they came under a general ban on glass and china products.

Obviously a precaution to prevent anyone throwing a dinner plate or wine glass at the speakers, it seems.

The elderly ladies stepped away, no longer deemed a threat (due to the absence of Al Jazeera mugs among other things), and adjusted their clothing.

They also checked the integrity of the numerous badges they wore – including the large "McCain-Palin" discs, sporting pictures of the Republican presidential and vice-presidential hopefuls.

As they hobbled off towards the main entrance, a young man was recording a "piece-to-camera" (or "stand-up" to use the American term) with the venue as a backdrop.

"And security is one of the main things concerning Americans, with the rise of radical Islam ..." I did not bother listening to any more.

A different picture

Security at the Republican gathering was essentially along the same lines as that of the Democratic event, but was kicked into action by the arrival of tens-of-thousands of protestors on the streets of St Paul, Minnesota.

Before long, riot police were cordoning off access to the Xcel Energy Centre, making it hard for even delegates and the media to get to the venue.

Smashed vehicles and shop windows presented a very different picture from Denver's relatively peaceful streets.

And for those walking around who felt a tickle in the nose or stinging in the eyes, it was not a sudden on-set of flu or late-summer allergies, it was only the residual tear gas floating around from the clashes between the protestors and riot police.

I lost half of my team as we tried to weave our way through the chanting throng, but eventually, we managed a "tearful" reunion.

True mavericks

Ron Paul has consistently challenged the
Republican mainstream [GALLO/GETTY]
Once inside the sterile safety of the centre it became evident that the profile of those attending the RNC was visibly less diverse than those who packed out the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, a week earlier.

It became one of the issues raised frequently by the more progressive Republicans I encountered - including Ron Paul, the Republican congressman who upset the mainstream of the party for his criticism of the way it handled various issues from troops in Iraq to fiscal policy.

He also reinforced his status as a party outsider by holding a "parallel convention" on the sidelines of the main event in St Paul.

That gathering attracted between 10,000 and 15,000 people, depending on who was counting.

In spite of the RNC event organisers doing their best to stop him showing up, Paul appeared on my show on Wednesday – the third day of the convention - talking about his various policy concerns and emphasising  his desire to reach out to the US's increasingly diverse population, especially its youth.

He was preceded on our show by Bob Barr, the maverick former Republican congressman from Georgia, now the Libertarian Party candidate for president and also unpopular with mainstream Republicans for drawing away much-needed voters.

The straight-talking congressman described his party as promoting the values the original Republican party used to follow.

A divided party?

So, as much as the Democratic gathering – organised like a rock concert at times – echoed with a sense of unity, the Republican one seemed to be struggling to hold together a party divided along conservative and moderate lines.

It also seemed to be desperately trying to justify the controversial choice of Sarah Palin, the Alaskan governor as John McCain's running mate.

It seemed as if a new, startling revelation about the governor's personal life emerged on a daily basis.

As proceedings came to a close in St Paul, more than a few people were left wondering what rattling skeletons might yet fall out of the cupboard before November's election.

Rob Winder, St Paul, Minnesota,  September 4

McCain focused on his Vietnam captivity
for much of his speech [Reuters]
John McCain is the Republican presidential candidate for the 2008 election.

But his victory speech, popular as it was with the party faithful, will have raised a number of questions in the minds of the US public after it was disrupted by anti-war protesters.

The interruption was a reminder that the invasion of Iraq, which was backed by McCain, remains deeply unpopular with a large section of the American population.

The watching public may also have been worried by the stilted nature of much of his speech.

Wavering after the activists' brief interruption, McCain struggled to capture the imagination of the party loyalists in the same way that Sarah Palin, his vice-presidential candidate, had the night before.

But the Arizona senator picked up the pace and brought a much needed injection of emotion when he talked about being tortured by the North Vietnamese during his time as a prisoner of war.

The story of his capture and captivity is a gripping tale of heroism in the most difficult of circumstances and the crowd warmed to McCain as he spoke of how he changed as a person following the abuse.

Compelling as it is, McCain is unlikely to win the presidency on the strength of his military service alone, and he will need to offer more when rising to the challenge posed by Barack Obama.

Rosiland Jordan, St Paul, Minnesota,  September 4

So, it is the final day of the Republican Party's national convention in St Paul, Minnesota – and one would think that the atmosphere at the Xcel Centre would be sizzling!

Not so fast – maybe it is the sudden 20-degree drop in daytime temperatures outside, perhaps it is the collective fatigue of the press corps, security personnel and campaign staffers, or possibly the Republican delegates are just a laid-back bunch – but it is dull here. 

No excited chatter about Sarah Palin's speech to the convention Wednesday evening – No speculation about whether John McCain topped his running mate's digs at the Democratic ticket during his acceptance speech Thursday night.

Nothing – nada - zilch. 

The concession stand vendors and catering staff are still very cheerful and polite to their customers – a living testament to the state slogan: "Minnesota Nice".

Security checkpoint lines are never very long, and people say "pardon me" as they brush past you on the stairs leading down to the convention floor.  Even though everyone is on deadline, there never is any visible rushing about. 

Even a quick peek into the main entrance hallway as the first hour of convention business gets underway finds delegates quickly rushing past, as if they were heading to work, not to witness an always historic moment in US politics: the confirmation of a party’s presidential candidate. 

There is no mugging for photographers – no crazy outfits or hats to catch the TV cameras' attention.  Maybe that is the way modern Republican party activists look at the 2008 convention – a place to do business.

Or maybe they are tired, too.

Rob Reynolds, St Paul, Minnesota,  September 4

The speech given by Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska and Republican vice-presidential candidate, at the Republican convention was a huge hit with the audience of hard-right conservative delegates.

It was a well-crafted speech written by one of President George Bush's favourite scriptwriters, Matt Scully.

It was heavy on autobiography and very skimpy on policy prescriptions. Palin barely mentioned the top issue on voters minds: the economy.

What was most striking to me about Palin’s presentation, as well as that of the other speakers Wednesday such as Rudolph Giuliani and Mitt Romney, was the tone of biting, angry sarcasm and ridicule directed toward the Democratic ticket.

The speakers belittled Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, as a mere "community organiser" and said he had not passed a single law during his time in congress (the latter charge is false, by the way).

There were plenty of other scornful, almost schoolyard-taunting type moments. The overall atmosphere was one of almost gleeful mockery.

What I am wondering is whether American voters outside the Excel Energy centre here in St Paul appreciate that kind of harsh partisan attack this election year.

My sense from talking with voters is that they are in a different kind of mood this year. They are not all that interested in clever putdowns or gleeful skewering. 

They have some pretty serious concerns on their minds: the price of food and energy, jobs that are in jeopardy or disappearing, the direction the country is headed, and the war in Iraq.

Sobering reality

The economy is causing concern for
many Americans [GALLO/GETTY]
It might be a good idea for McCain to address some of those concerns on Thursday night.

After all, it will be the last chance to do so during this convention. We have not heard much from the Republicans about the issues - particularly economic issues - thus far.

We have certainly heard quite a lot about McCain's war record and his time in a POW camp in North Vietnam 35 years ago, and way, way too much about Sarah Palin's hunting prowess, her daughter, and her boyfriend, and whether being a small town mayor and governor for 21 months makes her presidential material or not.

Earlier on Thursday the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 340 points on Wall Street and the US department of labour reported 444,000 Americans registered for jobless benefits last week.

That is near a five year high and the sobering reality many Americans have in the back of their minds as they watch the Republican Party demand another four years in the White House.

Hebah Abdalla, St Paul, Minnesota,  September 4

As the Republican National Convention moves into its final day, Al Jazeera's team of interview producers is putting together our final list of television guests.

We secretly count down the remaining hours left of our special coverage, as the political conventions have meant a gruelling schedule of 16-hour days for the entire field staff of about 20 people.

Surviving on a steady diet of sugar cookies and coffee, we work out of an old basketball arena attached to the convention center where John McCain, the Republican presidential hopeful, will soon speak. 

Our workspaces are divided by flea market-style curtains, the only thing distinguishing us from the thousands of other journalists covering the convention is a small, makeshift sign with the famous Al Jazeera logo.

Other networks call us "bookers".  In Canada, we are called "chasers". 

Better reception?

Our essential role for the network is to line up interviews with analysts, observers and participants in the US political process.

From the boisterous Texas delegate with a sparkly cowboy hat, to Trent Lott, former US senate majority leader we have interviewed a wide range of people from the Republican Party faithful.

Fellow US journalists covering the convention often ask what sort of reception we have been receiving from the Republican party.

"It's a mixed bag," I often say. But it is also better than most would expect. It is not clear whether this is directed at us, or whether this is the experience of other journalists as a whole.

Asma, a writer from the women’s fashion publication Glamour says she has had the same experience as well.

"At the DNC, they didn't reach out to Glamour," she said.

"They didn't offer special interviews. But the RNC called, asked what specific people I wanted to talk to and had gone out of their way to find people to interview for my piece."

Seeing the signs

 
The experience of our team here in St Paul is consistent with our treatment at the convention in New York City four years ago.

But at the Democratic National Convention in Boston four years ago, they removed the Al Jazeera sign from our skybox almost immediately after it was hung. 

It mysteriously reappeared after the last day of the convention.

The incident served as fodder for dozens of reporters, looking for an interesting distraction. Countless stories appeared in the local and national media.

I suppose this year the Democrats made sure to take better care of our sign, but we still had a tough time getting interviews with the party's officials.

Camille Elhassani, St Paul, Minnesota,  September 4

Last night, John McCain asked: "Don't you think we made the right choice for the next vice president of the United States?" 

And the crowd of party faithful in St Paul roared with applause. Sarah Palin was a hit.

Knowing that McCain is not the world's best speech maker and usually looks awkward in these kinds of moments, it is safe to say that Palin's speech was the highlight of the whole Republican convention.

Palin went from defense to offense on Wednesday. Palin did what vice-presidential candidates do best: Attack. 

And she enjoyed it, saying last night, "In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers. And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change."

John Dickerson writes in Slate, "Palin's attacks are potentially dangerous because they are aimed at the crucial voting bloc of women and middle-class voters who can see their lives in her life." 

She got through the easy part – a rehearsed speech given to a friendly audience.

Now she has to go out on the stump and take questions from reporters and spar with Joe Biden in the VP debate next month. 

Mark Ambinder reports that Palin is being dispatched to do battle: "They're filling a calendar that will find her deployed to places where McCain can't go, places where McCain's gone and fallen flat, and places where social conservatives need an enthusiasm boost."

But Longtime feminist Gloria Steinem writes an article in the Los Angeles Times popping the Palin balloon, dispelling any notion that former Hillary Clinton supporters would get behind Palin: "To vote in protest for McCain/Palin would be like saying, 'Somebody stole my shoes, so I'll amputate my legs.'"

'Peace' theme

Clinton told people he felt their pain,
can McCain show the same empathy? [EPA]
Also on Wednesday, Republican delegates fulfilled their duty and held the roll call vote, offically nominating John McCain to be the Republican Party's nominee for President.  It happened late at night and without much fanfare.

Meanwhile the Washington Post takes a look at the makeup of the Republican convention, which is whiter than it's been in 40 years. 

Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager told the Post that they're going after women and white working class voters. So they are basically ceding the black vote.

As for Thursday, the last day of the convention, the theme is peace. 

It is John McCain's night. He has got to rebrand the Republican party and hammer home his message to the largest free unobstructed audience he'll get before election day. 

He has got to show voters that he is sympathetic to their hardships, as Bill Clinton famously put it: "I feel your pain." 

Politico says he will talk about his life story, and "he may well use the occasion to chide his fellow Republicans for losing their compass".

Mark Salter, McCain's speechwriter, told reporters this morning that his speech will go into, "where, how, and why he'll lead the country."

Blasting Washington

TV viewership numbers are out for the last couple of nights… and it doesn't look good for the RNC. They got 3 million less viewers than the DNC last week. McCain's camp told reporters on a conference call this morning that they had not seen the numbers and are not concerned.

Thursday's funfact: Defence contractors raised more money for Obama than McCain. 

According to the Centre for Responsive Politics, at the end of July, Obama raised $410,443 and McCain only $393,954. 

Apparently the military industrial complex doesn't like McCain's talk about opposing wasteful spending.

And finally, in defence of Washington. Politicians at both conventions have taken every opportunity to blast Washington as broken and useless to the average American. 

But the fact is, a successful national politician has to work with Washington, in Washington. 

This notion that professional politicians are somehow bad is good rhetoric but bad policy. We have professional doctors, professional lawyers, professional journalists, so why not professional legislators? 

Are "citizen politicians" more effective or do they get lost in the system until they learn to become professional operatives? 

And just because the current set of politicians has failed on a number of levels, it does not mean there are not plenty of professional politicians who are trying to do change things.

Rob Winder, St Paul, Minnesota,  September 3

"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organiser,' except that you have actual responsibilities."

Sarah Palin launched a broadside on Barack Obama in her speech accepting the Republican vice-presidential nomination, attacking both the politics of the left and Democrats who questioned her experience for the role.

And after a shaky start, it also contained a sharpness of tone that mocked the Illinois senator's buzzwords of "hope" and "change", a signal that the US could be in store for some heated debates between her and Joe Biden, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, later in the campaign.

The Alaska governor also focused heavily on her family during the address, describing herself as a devoted "hockey mom" in what could be seen as an attempt to address rumours about her children that were circulated on the internet this week.

John McCain made a surprise appearance alongside Palin and her family on stage at the end of her speech, in the same way that Obama had appeared alongside Biden at the Democrat convention in Denver a week earlier.

But the body language between McCain and Palin remained awkward and it looked as if the two have work to do to get to know each other, let alone convince the American public to vote for them as a team.

But Palin's speech was given a rapturous welcome in the Republican National Convention, although that was to be expected.

The real test is whether Palin can inspire the wider American public in the same way that she (and hurricane Gustav) united what could have been a fractious convention for the Republicans.

Earlier, the assembled delegates had been treated to an appearance by those who lost out to McCain in this year's primary campaign. Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani all appeared on stage to sing the praises of the Arizona senator, in between blasts of country music.

The crowd were given 'hand-written' signs to wave that looked suspiciously manufactured. The one that read "energy independence" certainly did little to inspire the imagination.

Giuliani, the former New York mayor, brought the crowd to its feet when he pushed for the exploration of US oil and gas resources.

"Drill, baby, Drill," the crowd responded.

Rob Reynolds, St Paul, Minnesota,  September 3

An odd scene unfolded on the tarmac at the Twin Cities airport in Minnesota on Wednesday.

John McCain, the soon-to-be Republican nominee for president, arrived in his campaign plane, and on hand to greet him was Sarah Palin, Alaska governor and McCain's chosen running mate.

However she was not alone. She brought along her entire family - including special-needs infant Trig, 17-year-old daughter Bristol, who is several months pregnant and Bristol's new fiance, Levi Johnston, who is described as her unborn baby’s father. McCain awkwardly hugged both teens.

Okay, I feel bad for Bristol, Levi, and Sarah. I have a daughter just a few years older than Bristol myself and I can appreciate how excruciatingly embarrassed the poor girl might be to have her personal behaviour announced, discussed and dissected in front to the entire world (literally).

And it is no fun being publicly outed as the parent of a kid who got in trouble, either.

Off message?

Bristol's pregnancy has caused a storm
of controversy [GALLO/GETTY]
That is why I cannot understand why Bristol is not back home, safe in the governor's mansion in Juneau and out of the glare of the television lights, instead of being paraded around the convention as a kind of political prop attesting to Palin's pro-life position.

Governor Palin has asked the media to respect her children’s privacy, and McCain operatives have harshly condemned the media for probing and prying into the Palin family’s private business.

But there they are - having to stand up straight and smile for the cameras.

All I can think of is how fast my daughter would slit my gullet if I tried to use her as a career-building prop.

Bristol Palin's pregnancy, Palin's involvement in an ethics investigation and her lobbying for federal spending on questionable projects have put McCain’s presidential campaign on the defensive.

"It has the McCain campaign off message," Suzanne Smalley, a reporter at Newsweek magazine, told me on Wednesday.

"It's never good to be pushed back on your heels, to have the convention overtaken by the press running away with this story that you can't control."

Women's concerns

Polls show Palin's appeal to independent or undecided women voters may be limited.

Al Jazeera's Kelly Rockwell spent some time on the playgrounds and baseball diamonds of Anaheim, California talking to mothers to find out what they thought.

Jodie O'Donnell paused while watching her son play football to say she admires Palin's accomplishments—but she wont be voting for her.

"I don't think she's qualified to lead our country," O'Donnell declared.

"Now, would I wanna have lunch with this woman? Yes! She's probably an amazing person, incredibly intelligent, incredibly capable - but not for that job."

McCain picked Palin in part to lure women voters who backed Hillary Clinton but are unsure about Barack Obama.

Energising conservatives

But Palin's hard-right, socially conservative position over abortion even in cases of rape or incest turns off Clinton voters such as Kim Garcia.

"I did like Hillary as an option," Garcia said, "but one of my main things against the Republicans is women's rights and abortion. From what I've heard, [Palin] is even against abortion following a rape - so, no, I'd never vote for them."

But Palin has energised one key Republican constituency - the base of social conservatives and evangelical Christians - like many of the delegates here at the convention in St Paul.

She is a real heroine to them, especially for living up to her pro-life beliefs by carrying her Down syndrome baby to term.

Those voters and party activists feel thrilled and energised by Palin in a way that they never were able to feel about McCain. If they turn out in huge numbers in key states (like Ohio) in the fall, they could once again make the difference for the Republicans.

But even among the base, there's a frisson of nervousness about the lady from Alaska.

"I think we can bounce back and we’ll be fine. Hopefully nothing else will come out - let's keep our fingers crossed," one delegate said.

It seems enthusiasm is tempered by anxiety - about whether more of Palin's dirty laundry might be aired in public.

Camille Elhassani, St Paul, Minnesota,  September 3

Tuesday's convention marked a return
to a fuller schedule [EPA]
And it is back to normal at the Republican National Convention.  Bush handed the baton to McCain on Tuesday night, in a short, non-primetime speech from far away.

The second night of the convention included no policy discussion, but all the speakers praised McCain and attacked Obama/Washington DC (characterised as the same by both Joe Lieberman and Fred Thompson). 

Lieberman gave a good speech, considering he is a snoozefest speaker. He is clearly passionate about McCain and has no love for Obama, saying "eloquence is no substitute for a record."

The Obama camp was obviously upset about the speech.  One adviser said this morning that Lieberman did "a disservice to the American people" and he "flat out lied about Barack Obama".

But ... Lieberman praised Bill Clinton's bipartisanship during his administration.  And there was applause for the former Democratic president from the very party that pushed for his impeachment. Yes, it really happened.

'Babygate' continues

So now the media is waiting for Babygate's water to break, and according to the Washington Post, Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee did not reveal that her teenage daughter was pregnant until the day before McCain asked her to be his running mate. 

The Los Angeles Times reports the McCain campaign is preparing an all-fronts defence of Palin. McCain is also launching a television advertisement saying that Palin has more experience than Obama.

Rudy Giuliani, former presidential candidate and former mayor of New York City, said on MSNBC that the media is beating up on Palin, that the scrutiny is unfair and indecent.  We will see a lot of that kind of defence this week. 

This crowd is already sold on Palin, what she needs to do tonight is sell that to the television audience. 

One former member of Congress told Stu Rothenberg in Roll Call, "The party was with McCain intellectually but not emotionally.  Now, with the selection of Palin, that's changed.’” 

Slate writes of Palin's assets: "She embodies the hope of a blue-collar life without economic insecurity."

Swirling allegations

Palin herself is due to speak on Wednesday evening.

She has been holed up in a hotel in Minneapolis learning John McCain's policies, working on her speech, and according to the Wall Street Journal, meeting Joe Lieberman and members of of the Aipac lobby.

A former adviser to Dan Quayle, a former vice-president to George Bush senior, told the Los Angeles Times that Palin needs to "just stay out of trouble" in her speech. 

Things to look for: Palin needs regain control of her image and lay out her qualifications.  She has got to show she is McCain's cheerleader who shares his vision and can be a world leader. 

And over the next week, she not only has to give a barnburner speech but also keep the swirling allegations from eating her alive.

There will also be speeches from Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and Rudy Giuliani will speak this evening. 

Wednesday's funfact: Vanity Fair magazine reports that three months ago, Obama and Roger Ailes, chairman of Fox News, had a secret meeting to discuss how to get along.

Now, Obama will appear on noted conservative host Bill O'Reilly's primetime programme on Thursday night, the same night McCain gives his acceptance speech. 

Rosiland Jordan, St Paul, Minnesota,  September 2

If the mood around the Xcel Centre was funereal on Monday – on Tuesday, it is a little giddier.

Romney, former presidential candidate,
is at the convention [GALLO/GETTY]
More delegates are showing up wearing the outrageous hats and clothes that have come to symbolise the political convention tradition. 

Plenty of Texas delegates want you to know they're Texan – and they have donned their Stetson hats, their Tony Lama boots and lots of leather fringed jackets. 

These delegates are surrounded by reporters eager for a human interest story (but not your faithful correspondent – she is from Texas and has her own cowboy boots, thank yuh very much!).

Mitt Romney, the former presidential candidate – who as of this writing is not scheduled to address the convention – nonetheless took part in a "sound check" at the podium around mid-morning.

He looked around the arena, named most of the television and radio networks that have set up broadcasting booths and neon signs (but not Al Jazeera), and shook hands with the production crew. 

About 15 television photographers craned over the velvet rope surrounding the stage in hopes of getting a good angle of Romney on tape.

Party people

Another "sound checker" who attracted even more photographers is an actual speaker at this convention – Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic vice-presidential candidate and current political independent senator. 

He looked relaxed and tanned, smiling as he found his mark behind the podium. Word is John McCain wanted Lieberman to be his running mate, but was overruled by the Republican party power brokers. 

One can only imagine what the Democrats would have said about that selection.

And finally, proof that the party is back on: The credentials check is getting more thorough – at nearly every checkpoint, a convention staffer is looking at and/or scanning one's building pass – and one's range of access is definitely tied to the color of the pass. 

Talk about class divisions ...

Camille Elhassani, St Paul, Minnesota,  September 2

One storm blows over while another political storm kicks up or Hurricane Sarah (Palin) hits.

Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, announced on Monday that her 17-year-old daughter is five months pregnant and will marry the baby's father. 

But the delegates here in St Paul that we have talked to, say it is not an issue for Palin and believe Bristol is doing the right thing (isn't abstinence a family value?).

Politico says Americans outside the convention may feel the same: "Many voters will find it easy to identify with her family’s struggles - a significant advantage in an election where the voting calculus is so unusually and intensely personal."  

So what are the political ramifications? Not much, as long as that is the only skeleton or teen pregnancy in her closet. 

McCain's camp says he knew about the baby and is OK with it. 

Palin adviser Tucker Eskew told the New York Times: "We are going to flush the toilet", describing the campaign's plans for Labour Day (Monday was a US national holiday), when much of the nation was busy with family and social activities.

Crying foul?

Palin's announcement may have helped
the McCain campaign [AFP]
Does that mean we have heard all the bad news Palin has?

Conservaties are crying foul from the media for even making this an issue, some are saying the coverage is sexist ... if the VP were a man whose teen daughter got knocked up, it would not threaten to derail anything. 

Marc Ambinder reports that Republicans have put out talking points, which include a lot of words like "respect" and "love".

And there is empirical proof that Palin has done more good than harm: McCain, who is a notoriously poor fundraiser, raised $10 million since last Friday, largely due to supporters energised by Sarah Palin. 

That makes the August total for McCain to be $47 million, almost matching fundraising juggernaut Obama's July number.

A couple of the papers delve into how much McCain knew about Palin and how thoroughly she was vetted. 

The Los Angeles Times quotes a Republican source "with close ties to the campaign" said that McCain aides "vetted her through Google and clipping services".

Um ...yes, well ... The McCain campaign has now sent a team to Alaska, where Palin is governor, to manage all the media who have descended on the wild north to see what else they can dig up.

Ambinder writes: "The question isn't whether Palin was subjected to and passed a legal vet - she did, apparently - it's whether anyone with political judgment supervised the vet."

Stealing headlines

Biden's "dirty laundry" has already aired,
has Palin's [EPA]
As for Troopergate, now Palin has hired a lawyer. She allegedly inappropriately put pressure on a subordinate to fire her ex-brother in law, who by all accounts, should have been fired. 

And the papers are also full of other eyebrow-raising details about Sarah Palin, what her husband got up to in the 1980s, what she supported and how much earmark money she got for her locality. 

She was unknown before this, unlike Joe Biden. His dirty laundry has been out there for awhile, so nobody cares.  But for an unknown in the water ... the piranhas of the press corps are excited.

Still, Palin's nominaton will go on as expected, but for the second time in the two days, what was supposed to be free air time for John McCain, something other than the nominee himself has stolen the headlines. 

It’s a distraction he cannot afford. The Los Angeles Times says: "Although grass-roots Republicans remain protective of Palin, the campaign has clearly moved from celebratory mode into a full defensive posture."

Regardless, the convention gets back on track today. The theme will be John McCain: The man he is.  And we are expecting a few speakers cancelled from last night, including Joe Lieberman, a former Democratic senator and now independent senator for Connecticut, and GeorgeBush via satellite. 

Fred Thompson, the former Tennessee senator and Republican presidential senator, will also speak.

And it's St Paul for Ron Paul, the independent presidential candidate holding a rally for the republic. 

The Washington Times reports that the RNC is negotiating with Paul to get the support of his 4,600 delegates at the convention. Paul garnered moderate support during the Republican primaries and was an effective fundraiser.

Rosiland Jordan, St Paul, Minnesota,  September 1

Younger Republicans are paying their dues
at the event [GALLO/GETTY]
Day one of the Republican party's convention in St Paul, Minnesota and the delegates are easing into their work.

That is by design – no, wait, that is not by design. Hurricane Gustav, at one point a Category four Atlantic storm, aimed for the US Gulf Coast near New Orleans over the weekend and it was almost a given that the convention would have to acknowledge the impending crisis on the coast. 

John McCain told his supporters to do just the legal business that needs to be done at the gathering and to put off the celebrating, the fanfare, and the fancy theatrics. 

So far, they are complying.

A quick spin around the Xcel Centre – many American stadiums and convention halls now bear the names of corporations – found an almost universal sense that McCain made the right call. 

One delegate said the storm is a chance to revive the notion of "compassionate conservatism" – sharing one's bounty with those who have less, especially in a crisis.

People are organising "care package" events and prayer services to help those who had to flee their homes ahead of the storm. 

But there is no sense of urgency about the hurricane – in fact, the atmosphere is rather deflated and contemplative. 

What continues, despite some US press suggesting the contrary, is the Republican party's attempts to groom future generations of political activists. 

Since the 1980s the Republicans have recruited and trained future politicians across the US – an effort that not only has built trans-generational loyalty to the party, but also created a pool of local, state, and federal leaders. 

A group of about 50 young people, all dressed in white shirts and navy blazers, was dispatched around noon local time to put programmes and fliers on the delegates' chairs – and to soak up the atmosphere of this event. 

Maybe one day they might be the delegates sitting in those chairs. But for now, they are paying their dues.

Rob Winder, St Paul, Minnesota,  September 1

The Republican National Convention has been thrown into complete disarray by the onslaught of Hurricane Gustav.

Monday's programme has already been severely curtailed with the Republican leadership keen to avoid the mistakes made during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when the Bush administration was blasted for its reaction, or lack of it.

John McCain, who was supposed to use this week to celebrate his coronation as the party's presidential nominee, said the country was facing a "great national challenge," and that it was time to "do away with party politics".

But the Arizona senator's voting record on Katrina has raised questions over his commitment to the hurricane relief effort.

McCain voted against a bill amendment the setting up of an independent commission to investigate the government's reaction to Katrina - not once but twice.

Response criticised

McCain's Hurricane Katrina response has
been criticised [AFP]
Democrats say this may have been to protect the Bush administration from further criticism over its mishandling of Katrina.

Later, he also voted against another amendment allowing one year's unemployment benefit to people affected by the hurricane.

And he has faced further criticism for not paying as many visits to New Orleans following the devastating hurricane as Barack Obama, his Democrat rival.

McCain has said he voted against one of the bill amendments because it contained unnessecary spending unrelated to aid to Katrina.

He says he has been as "active as anybody in efforts to restore the city," but residents of the states currently feeling the full force of hurricane Gustav may have cause for concern about McCain's response.

Camille Elhassani, St Paul, Minnesota,  September 1

Two million people have been evacuated from the US Gulf Coast as Hurricane Gustav bears down on the region, and the Republican National Convention is a big question mark.

The Xcel Centre in St Paul in the US state of Minnesota was abuzz with analysis on Sunday night.  A few thousand journalists were trying to figure out if a hurricane is good news for the Republican party or bad. 

As macabre as it may be, every event has political implications, even a natural disaster. 

John Dickerson writes in Slate, "like all great political moments, it allows him [McCain] to act authentically and yet benefit politically."

Politico writes: "The storyline becomes Gustav drama, not McCain vs the [Republicans], or abortion or any other divisive issue." And McCain gets to continue to look presidential.

George Bush, the US president, and Dick Cheney, the US vice-president, have cancelled their appearances at the convention - also good news for McCain. 

Anything to keep the guys with low approval ratings away is good for the Republican presidential candidate. 

Coverage conundrum

Some say the Republicans cut the first
convention day prematurely [Reuters]
But on the flip side, scaling back means McCain will not own the news cycle this week. 

He could have basked in the free primetime news coverage just as Barack Obama did last week.  But that is assuming the coverage they would get would be positive.

The New York Times says scaling back is a "missed opportunity for Republicans who were planning four days of high-profile attacks on Mr Obama".

Republicans also do not get to try out the new VP nominee.  Some in the press said they scrubbed the first day prematurely.  They could have changed the speeches and the message. 

Only the most essential business will be conducted at the convention on Monday; no pomp, no speeches.  The Republican National Convention will update later on Monday about the schedule for the rest of the convention.

McCain backed

Meanwhile, the protesters have vowed to continue their demonstrations, despite the fact that Bush and Cheney will not be here and the celebration has been cancelled for the day. 

A protest organiser told the St Paul Pioneer Press that they are expecting 50,000 people out on the streets on Monday to protest the war in Iraq. 

Also out on Monday, a new NYT/CBS News poll indicates that nine out of 10 Republican delegates support McCain and many said they are more conservative than McCain, but they are behind him anyway. 

And naturally, they think their man can win.  But, oddly enough, nearly three-quarters say the US economy is not in a recession.

Meanwhile Obama is campaigning in battleground Michigan.  Lest you think only one presidential candidate is trying to look presidential, Obama also called for people along the Gulf Coast to heed the evacuation order and had a phone briefing about the hurricane from the homeland security director on Sunday.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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