RNC tries making up for lost time

Convention organizers might ask networks for more airtime

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Republican National Convention resumed in full force Tuesday as the GOP turned its attention toward its upcoming battle against the Democrats for the presidency.

GOP officials made the decision around daybreak Tuesday to return to the traditional convention after it was clear that Hurricane Gustav, while damaging to the Gulf Coast, didn't approach the level of Katrina three years ago.

The GOP wasted no time. A parade of speakers gave the hard and soft sell on behalf of the Republicans and the McCain-Palin ticket.

Getting primetime real estate were former presidential candidate and "Law & Order" star Fred Thompson and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, a former Democrat who has come out strongly for his close friend McCain.

Thompson lauded McCain's character, telling his story as a Navy pilot in Vietnam and POW through his career as a reformer and Senator.

"Being a POW certainly doesn't qualify anyone to be president. But it does reveal character. My friends, this is the kind of character that civilizations from the beginning of our history have sought in our leaders," Thompson said. "Strength. Courage. Humility. Wisdom. Duty. Honor."

For his part, Lieberman gave his vote of confidence, pushing back against his former party's attempts to paint McCain as four more years of the Bush administration.

"If John McCain is just another partisan Republican, then I'm Michael Moore's favorite Democrat," Lieberman said. "And I think you know I'm not."

And speaking by video from the White House, President Bush boosted McCain as well.

"He's not afraid to tell you when he disagrees," Bush said. "Believe me, I know."

There was little doubt now that vp candidate Sarah Palin would address the delegates in primetime Wednesday, and Sen. John McCain would be in St. Paul to accept the nomination in primetime Thursday night.

"We are working to consolidate the programs for Wednesday and Thursday night," McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said Tuesday. "We anticipate those nights going as planned, with modifications."

What also wasn't clear was whether the McCain campaign would ask the networks, particularly the broadcasters, for more time Wednesday and Thursday because they lost an hour previously promised Monday because of hurricane coverage. The Democrats received four hours of broadcast primetime, at 10 p.m. EDT; the cablers provided endless coverage.

Tuesday, all of the network anchors were back in St. Paul to cover their hour of RNC in primetime. The cablers also returned to normal convention coverage. An hour of primetime broadcast network coverage is planned per night through Thursday.

Mark McKinnon, former chief media strategist for McCain and President Bush, said that the one-day shortened convention was much more positive than negative for the McCain campaign.

"It goes to show that they were engaged and responding to a natural disaster," McKinnon said. "That boosted McCain's leadership profile."

Opinion at the network levels on Monday seemed to favor some kind of parity for the GOP, which wasn't able to put on the kind of convention opening night that it had long planned.

"We're having some conversations with the networks as to what possibilities exist to expand time," Davis confirmed Tuesday. But as the day progressed and no formal request was made, it seemed less likely that the GOP would get more than a few minutes extra per night.

"I think that they (the GOP) think it might be nice but they also understand about Monday (and hurricane coverage)," said one network executive Tuesday afternoon. "They might ask for a bit more and they might get a bit more but there's been no heavy pressure from the campaign."

The networks were waiting to take their lead from what the convention organizers came up with for programs Wednesday or Thursday. That's likely to be decided by Wednesday morning. Any request for additional time would have to be run by the network heads, as it would be out of the hands of the news divisions.

One proposal floating around Monday was to give the GOP two hours on Thursday night. But that would pose a major problem for NBC, which is televising the opening night of the National Football League season. Already the NFL moved the kickoff time an hour earlier to make sure the New York Giants-Washington Redskins game would be over in enough time so that McCain could give his acceptance speech in the 10 p.m. hour EDT.

The NFL probably wouldn't move the game any earlier and NBC is contractually obligated to carry the entire game. If it ended on time earlier than the three-hour block allotted, an NBC executive said that there might be extra time to give to the GOP. But that was far from certain.

There's no legal obligation for NBC or any of the other networks to carry more coverage, although fairness has been an issue. But one executive, echoing several said that the GOP might just be out of luck due to the storm.

"Let's be honest. They canceled the convention (primetime)," the executive said. "They chose to do that. Of course, they had no choice."