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Gustav changes but doesn't crash Republicans' party

  • Story Highlights
  • Republican National Convention started Monday in scaled-back form
  • Monday's emphasis was on providing relief for Gulf Coast states
  • Hurricane Gustav is pushing convention coverage to the side
  • Republicans could benefit from volunteer efforts
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By Kristi Keck
CNN
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St. Paul, MINNESOTA (CNN) -- Convention-goers pushed politics aside Monday as Hurricane Gustav altered their plans from 1,000 miles away.

The Republican National Convention scaled back its program after the uninvited guest forced them to shift focus to providing relief for areas affected by the storm.

Instead of hard-hitting attacks from political heavyweights, Monday afternoon's program included a call to action from first lady Laura Bush and Cindy McCain, her potential successor.

Bush introduced a video featuring a message from governors from the Gulf Coast states, and McCain pushed delegates to donate online.

The night was a far cry from the hoopla of the Democrats' opening extravaganza. The gavel-to-gavel coverage of their first night included dancing delegates, a moving appearance by Sen. Edward Kennedy and a closing speech from Michelle Obama.

"I know the delegates are disappointed. They come from all over the country to have this big celebration, but on the other hand, I know they understand," Laura Bush said. Video Watch the first lady's take on the convention »

Although the Democrats' party included plenty of made-for-television moments, the Republicans' low-drama event hardly lends to bad press. Video Watch the low-key opening events »

In less than an hour on Monday afternoon, the McCain camp's telethon efforts for hurricane relief brought in more than $1.1 million, including a hefty million-dollar donation from a private individual.

The McCains have donated $25,000 dollars to Hurricane Gustav relief: $5,000 to each of the Gulf Coast states.

The downtown phonebank included about 90 delegates, volunteers, campaign staff and others in the Twin Cities for the convention.

"If Republicans gain some political leverage out of this, and they probably will, so be it: The test for each candidate is in part to show how well they adapt to changing circumstances," said David Gergen, a former presidential adviser and senior CNN political analyst.

"The Obama-Biden team adapted extremely well to the challenges of their convention, and now it is the Republicans' turn at bat," he said.

The theme of the first day, "Country First," was one of the few things that remained the same Monday. McCain's campaign displayed the theme on cards passed out to delegates. The flip side included information on relief agencies in Gulf Coast states.

As far as the rest of the week's agenda, McCain's campaign said it would have to play it by ear.

It was unclear whether politics would be back on the agenda, but volunteer efforts were on tap for the rest of the week.

Organizers were planning to set up a volunteer center Tuesday inside the arena so convention-goers could assembly relief packs for send the hardest hit areas. Convention sponsors, who originally signed up for an event with an expected global audience, were also transforming their receptions into charitable events.

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"We've had companies call us today and say, what more can we do to help?" said Jeff Larson, CEO of the RNC host committee.

Although the Grand Old Party might be a little subdued, Republicans are hopeful it will still be a grand affair.

CNN's Reggie Aqui and Sandra Endo contributed to this report.

All About Hurricane GustavRepublican PartyU.S. Presidential Election

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