By Dave McKinney and Abdon Pallasch
Sun-Times staff reporters
ST. PAUL, Minn. - John McCain will accept his Republican presidential nomination here despite Hurricane Gustav's landfall today in a sign that GOP convention planners are becoming increasingly optimistic their political gathering won't be completely scuttled this week by the storm.
"We hope to be able to regain our schedule at some point. Obviously, we have more information today than we did yesterday on its impact," McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said of the Gulf Coast hurricane, which has triggered flooding but is not the Category 5 monster that some had forecast a day ago.
"We're still just a little ways a way from giving a firm fix on what we'll be doing the balance of the week. But we are more optimistic than we were a day ago," Davis said during a morning conference call with reporters today to discuss convention planning.
There had been speculation in the Twin Cities that McCain might accept his nomination somewhere along the Gulf Coast to demonstrate empathy for voters in the GOP-rich South as they begin cleanup from the hurricane.
"We have absolutely no anticipation that the senator will receive his nomination anywhere but St. Paul," Davis said. "There's no contingency planning at this point that would have him outside the city to make his acceptance speech."
By canceling most of today's convention lineup, McCain shifted his party's focus this week from politics to philanthropy to distance himself from President Bush's mismanagement of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina three years ago.
In lieu of political speeches and an elaborate stage show, convention organizers today outlined new steps to mobilize state delegations to help stuff 80,000 "comfort bags" filled with toothpaste, soap and other relief supplies donated by Target Corp. and shipped by Federal Express. They also promised brief speaking roles during today's abbreviated convention schedule for First Lady Laura Bush and McCain's wife, Cindy McCain, who will encourage the ongoing GOP relief effort.
"It was our intention to keep politics out of this session. But we felt it was important to encourage financial support into these areas, and we felt Cindy's participation would encourage that activity," Davis said.
McCain's campaign chief would not identify a specific fundraising target nor challenge Barack Obama's presidential campaign to respond in a similar fashion.
"We anticipate a full and robust effort to do this, but the last thing we want to do honestly is take credit for any specific amount of money that's raised," Davis said. "We want to encourage people to do this. We don't want to make a contest out of it."