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The Times Online/UK

Bush to Skip Convention as Gustav Scuppers Republican Plans

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Hurricane Gustav has thrown plans for the Republican National Convention into disarray this weekend with the party keen to wipe out memories of President Bush's botched handling of Katrina, which hit land almost exactly three years ago.

The White House announced today that Mr Bush will not address the convention in Minneapolis St Paul as scheduled on Monday night as he would be touring the Gulf Coast. Dick Cheney, his Vice President, will be at his side.

John McCain and his new running mate Sarah Palin could also be absent from the early stages of the convention, as will be four Republican governors whose states are in the firing line of Gustav. Mr McCain, along with his wife, Cindy, and Mrs Palin will travel to Jackson, Mississippi, on Sunday.

Republican officials are hastily working on contingency plans that could see the gathering turned into a telethon to raise money should there be a repeat of the catastrophic scenes witnessed when Hurricane Katrina cut a swath through New Orleans, bursting the levees and killing hundreds of people.

"You know, it just wouldn't be appropriate to have a festive occasion while a near-tragedy or a terrible challenge is presented in the form of a natural disaster. So we're monitoring it from day to day," Mr McCain told Fox News.

Barack Obama, touring the northeast of the US, made a direct connection between Gustav and Katrina, saying that he hoped the preparations were more thorough than those in 2005. "It wasn't last time and hopefully we've learnt from that tragedy," he said.

With Mr Bush absent from the convention, it would fall to his wife Laura to make a more substantial address, with the President speaking via satellite. "The President and Vice-President decided not to travel to Minnesota due to the hurricane," said Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman.

Katrina marked one of the low points of Mr Bush's second term, with his administration criticised for the slow and disorganised response to the storm, which killed 1,800 people across several states. Ahead of Gustav's impact, Mr Bush pre-emptively declared states of emergency for Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama.

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