RNC weathers Gustav woes

Airtime parity an issue as GOP scrambles to rework last two nights

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."

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 today, and Sen. John McCain would be in St. Paul to accept the nomination in primetime Thursday.

"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 today 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." (partialdiff)