McCain and Palin headed to Gulf Coast

Likely GOP presidential nominee John McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, are traveling to Mississippi today to check on people as they prepare for Hurricane Gustav.

Their trip comes just as delegates are preparing for the Republican National Convention, scheduled to begin Monday.

Aides say McCain and his wife, Cindy, will join Palin in traveling to Jackson, Miss., Sunday at the invitation of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour because of concerns about people threatened by the storm, which was heading into the Gulf of Mexico and menacing the same area ravaged by Hurricane Katrina three years ago. The storm could hit the United States as early as Monday afternoon.

The McCains and Palin will receive a briefing at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency – a permanent operations center monitoring hurricane response.

Republicans are worried about holding their national convention during the storm.

If the storm's landfall is serious, McCain said he probably would rethink allowing the four-day political gathering to continue.

“It just wouldn't be appropriate to have a festive occasion while a near tragedy or a terrible challenge is presented in the form of a natural disaster,” McCain said in an interview taped Saturday with “Fox News Sunday.” “So we're monitoring it from day to day, and I'm saying a few prayers, too.”

Charlie Black, a senior adviser to McCain, was watching the weather on Saturday in St. Paul, where the convention is scheduled to open Monday.

“We will try to adapt the convention to the fact we might have a natural disaster going on,” Black said.

With memories still vivid of the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the possibility of serious damage threatened to cast a pall over the convention.

President Bush, faced with the chance of another devastating hurricane during his tenure, called Gulf Coast governors on Saturday and conferred with federal officials to keep a close watch on developments, said spokesman Scott Stanzel.

Bush was criticized after Katrina struck because he stuck to a schedule that took him from his ranch in Texas on a two-day trip to Arizona and California. There, he promoted a Medicare proposal while making scant references to Katrina even as it slammed the Gulf Coast. He did not return to Washington until two days after the storm, and did not visit the region until five days after.

The Bush White House was badly burned by its tardy response after Katrina. Bush's image as a strong leader has never entirely rebounded, though he has worked to improve on the Katrina performance.

A top McCain aide, Mark Salter, said the campaign is drawing up contingency plans for what to do about the convention depending on when and where the storm hits. But he cautioned that it didn't mean the gathering would be canceled outright.

“It might change what we do at the convention” but wouldn't necessarily mean calling it off, Salter said.

But the convention was still on schedule in St. Paul.

“There are no plans for any postponement,” said Mike Miller, director of operations. “We plan to start when we're going to start and end when we're going to end.” The Chicago Tribune and The Associated Press contributed.