At a time when delegates, supporters and journalists gather in St Paul's, Minneapolis, to witness the commencement of the Republican National Convention, all proceedings are suspended. Instead of the usual excitement and buzz that surrounds political conventions, the mood in St Paul's is tense. Nervously, we wait to see whether the impact of Hurricane Gustav is as horrific as predicted. Furthermore, a resounding, suspicious, question echoes around every street corner - Is John McCain taking advantage of the pending disaster in an attempt to further his Presidential campaign?
Cynical spin doctors see the timing of Hurricane Gustav as a blessing in disguise for the campaign of the Republican Presidential nominee.
While the opportunity to show off at the RNC and hijack media attention this week might be suspended for the RNC, McCain is handed a perfect opportunity to prove, through action, he is not a duplicate of George W. Bush.
The greatest challenge faced by the McCain campaign thus far, has been to shake off the label given to him by Democratic rivalries - 'Bush Three'. The current President lost favorability among Republicans, and the American public generally, after Hurricane Katrina. Indeed, President Bush has become so unpopular that his scheduled speaking time at the RNC was a short speech during the opening ceremony on Monday night, after which he would vanish from the Convention. Due to the timing of Hurricane Gustav, President Bush announced he would not appear at all at the Convention. Perhaps another blessing for the McCain campaign?
But McCain is in a no-win situation. If the RNC is suspended and McCain travels to the Gulf of New Orleans, he will be accused of seeking to exploit a national calamity to his political advantage. Attending the site of the Hurricane cannot do anything to help the disastrous situation; however, it looks empathetic in the eyes of potential voters. On the other hand, if McCain continues with the RNC as planned, he would be open to the criticism that he is insensitive and selfish.
Democratic Presidential nominee, Barack Obama's reaction to the looming disaster does not involve a trip to the afflicted New Orleans region. Instead, Obama has announced plans to comb his donor list and tooth pick economic and voluntary support, to send to New Orleans in the aftermath of the Hurricane. This positive reaction could steal media attention away from either a McCain / Palin visit to the region, or, the speeches of a Republican National Convention.
Hurricane Gustav is a looming tragedy, a ghost of the horrors of Hurricane Katrina. Nevertheless, it is impossible to ignore the fortuitous timing in providing McCain with a chance to counter his greatest challenge. The argument of the skeptic is overwhelmingly convincing. John McCain has been afforded an opportunity to establish his difference to President Bush. At the same time he can demonstrate his Presidential worthiness by displaying leadership qualities and empathise with voters' sentimentality. McCain could not illustrate better his recognition that the people of America matter foremost, before the realm of politics. In this sense, the people of New Orleans have unwittingly become another pawn in the giant political game which culminates in the election of a new President.