Image: Ken Leonard
John Brecher  /  msnbc.com
Ken Leonard from Forney, Texas, helped set up a shelter for evacuees from Hurricane Gustav before flying to St. Paul for the GOP convention.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com
updated 9/1/2008 3:21:28 PM ET 2008-09-01T19:21:28

The news media’s intense focus on the political consequences of Hurricane Gustav got some pushback Monday morning from Texas delegates to the Republican national convention in St. Paul.

The message from the Lone Star State: Texans know how to handle natural disaster — unlike former Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

One Texas GOP leader, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst also criticized the national news media for being callous in talking about Gustav in blatantly political terms.

Addressing a Texas delegation breakfast, Dewhurst quoted CNN anchorman Wolf Blitzer saying of Gustav, “It’s unclear right now who would be helped and who would be hurt” in political terms.

Over their sausage, eggs and coffee, the Texas delegates groaned in dismay at Blitzer’s political analysis.

Chiding Blitzer, Dewhurst added, “I think everybody in this room and everybody in America is focusing on the people who are in harm’s way,” to which the crowd gave a rousing cheer.

Recalling Kathleen Blanco
But even as some Texas Republicans decried the media focus on Gustav's electoral ramifications, others made their own political assessments of the hurricane’s effect.

Dewhurst said Gov. Rick Perry and other Texas officials knew how to competently prepare for hurricane response and he criticized Blanco by name.

Speaking after Dewhurst, Sen. John Cornyn, who is up for re-election this year in Texas, said, “All you have to do to see what the difference in strong leadership at the state and local level means is to look next door at Louisiana.”

Cornyn said, “Gov. Perry and the entire Texas team have made me very proud in the way we have responded in a cooperative effort, local, state and federal government in dealing with these disasters.”

Later Cornyn told reporters, “In one sense you could look at it (Gustav) as bad luck, and in another sense, I think this will demonstrate the compassion of Republicans and the focus on public safety and security.… One reason why Texas after Rita and Katrina did so well relative to a state like Louisiana is because of strong local and state leadership.”

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In a slap at critics of President Bush, Cornyn said, “When you dial 911, the phone does not ring at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – contrary to some people’s thoughts.”

Then Cornyn headed to the airport so he could fly back to Texas to help with hurricane response.

He acknowledged that “maybe we lose a little something by not being in the spotlight for one night, but in the end I don’t think it makes a lot of difference.”

Shelter for Gustav evacuees
Delegate Ken Leonard, a pecan orchard owner and a Red Cross volunteer, helped set up a shelter in a church in Canton, Texas for Hurricane Gustav evacuees before flying to the convention. He said he’d helped shelter Louisiana émigrés after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“We took care of 300 people that came directly from the Superdome, in our little town. We’ve all seen the pictures of school buses sitting in parking lots (in New Orleans in 2005). I don’t want to assign blame, but I do want to say we don't ever want that to happen again where people are in harm’s way. I worked for a month with the Red Cross in Iowa and Iowa did a superb job of evacuating people from the path of the floods in Iowa. We’ve learned from our mistakes.”

Despite the diversion of media attention to Gustav, the Texas delegation was, as one would expect, exuberantly bullish on their party’s chances in November.

Dewhurst said when he got off the plane Sunday night in Minneapolis, he ran into a friend who is a Texas evangelical pastor.

“Because of Gov. Palin, I bet we turn out three to five million more votes,” was the pastor’s prediction. That forecast naturally drew whoops and applause from the Texans.

Laura Bush praises Palin's toughness
And First Lady Laura Bush showed up at the Texans’ breakfast to lavish praise on Palin.

"I am proud that I'm going to get my wish to vote for a Republican woman," said Mrs. Bush.

Referring to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Mrs. Bush said both she and the president were “surprised and thrilled by her nomination,” adding "we know how tough she is” and “we know what kind of women the state of Alaska produces — and how tough and strong she is.”

Although the First Lady didn’t allude to the news media hubbub over Palin’s baby and her 17-year old daughter being pregnant, the “tough” comment may have signaled to Texas delegates her faith that Palin would survive and thrive in the face of daunting media and Democratic scrutiny.

Image: Randall Dunning
John Brecher  /  msnbc.com
Alternate delegate from Texas Randall Dunning
Randall Dunning, a software developer for Rockwell Collins, as well as an alternate delegate and a Mike Huckabee supporter, said he was optimistic about the Republicans' chances in November because McCain was steering a more conservative course than he had before.

“Look at our platform, the vice presidential pick, the mood of the nation — you see it's going to be a more conservative Republican platform and a more conservative ticket than we’ve put together in a number for years,” said Dunning.

“Republicans fare better when we stay true to our conservative positions than when we try to play centrist games.”

He added “I don’t think people have suddenly become more liberal just because of war weariness or other things. It’s still a basically conservative nation.”

The only problem with Bush “in the circles in which I move is that he hasn’t been conservative enough.”

So is McCain more conservative than George W. Bush?  “I am surprised to say that McCain has actually moved right. The big fear was that he would move left,” replied Dunning.

He called Palin “phenomenal” and McCain’s’ choice of her “a phenomenally conservative move.”

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