Video: Gustav, Palin stir up convention

By Chief White House correspondent and political director
NBC News
updated 9/2/2008 5:59:15 PM ET 2008-09-02T21:59:15

After what seemed like weeks to the folks in St. Paul, the convention begins in full Tuesday, following a one-day delay.

The McCain campaign had no choice but to postpone the start of the RNC.

Preparing for worst-case scenarios is a basic part of crisis management, and McCain's camp passed this test with flying colors.

Some folks are muttering that they may have overreacted.

Hogwash.

Had they gone on with the convention as planned, and Gustav directly hit New Orleans, they'd be dealing with "out of touch" criticism for a long time to come.

The convention is likely to get off to a somewhat slow start because the lineup of speakers isn't exactly filled with stem-winders.

'Not fire and brimstone guys'
Fred Thompson, Joe Lieberman and President Bush are not fire and brimstone guys, so they'll get respectful treatment, but it's highly unlikely any of them will bring the delegates to their feet.

That may be alright. Thompson and Lieberman have been tasked with reassuring folks in the middle that McCain and Sarah Palin are ready not only to lead, but to change the direction of the country.

I'd be surprised if there are a lot of attacks Tuesday on Barack Obama but we'll see.

The good news for Thompson is that he has no expectations associated with his remarks. While he's obviously television ready, he proved during the campaign to be a mediocre stump speaker.

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Of course, he can change that — and with the help of a teleprompter, he'll probably do better than expected.

Lieberman's remarks will be the ones the political world follows most closely.

How harsh will Lieberman be?
How harsh will he be on Obama? Will he make the Democratic case for McCain or the centrist Democratic case against Obama?

Will there be any hint of Zell Miller? Will Lieberman and Chris Matthews duel? Kidding, folks.

Video: Sen. Zell Miller interview (Some of you may remember Miller's 2004 keynote RNC speech. The Democrat launched into an angry diatribe against his own party's candidate before appearing on MSNBC, challenging Matthews to a duel. Miller famously snapped, "Get out of my face!")

Lieberman's remarks come at a time when more and more reporters are learning just how close McCain came to picking him as his running mate.

In fact, if my sources are correct, Lieberman was virtually a done deal inside McCain's mind as of 10 days ago. But then, he was talked out of his pick by top adviser Charlie Black and campaign manager Rick Davis.

Both believed a pro-choice running mate would create convention chaos (something McCain didn't mind) and create even more enthusiasm problems on the right.

There's no doubt, talking to delegates, that Sarah Palin has provided a much-needed spark in the grass-roots.

Every state GOP chair that I've talked to has bragged to me about how many more volunteers have shown up for phone banking or given money.

For the first time, the base of the GOP is fired up about voting for someone, rather than just being told how excited they should be about voting against someone.

The other big speaker Tuesday is someone I had thought we wouldn't see when McCain made the decision to essentially cancel the first day of the convention — Bush.

Apparently, he'll speak via satellite from the White House, probably to thank delegates for their compassion and support for storm victims, as well as to make the case for McCain. There's no doubt who's doing the favor here.

McCain doing Bush a favor?
Video: Harwood: 'This is now the Palin convention' McCain is giving the president an opportunity to do a preparedness victory lap regarding Gustav.

McCain, politically, gets very little out of having Bush as a featured speaker at his convention.

But it does seem appropriate to have him speak due to the circumstances surrounding the storm. And who knows, maybe Bush's job rating will tick up a few points — something that every Republican on the ballot in November will appreciate.

One final aside — and this is just an observation from someone who wants to have the most interesting minds on the air when it comes to examining the future of the Republican Party.

It's very difficult to get a full airing of the smartest takes on the right when the biggest names on that side sign deals with Fox News.

Republicans can complain all they want about fairness in the cable news world, but Fox exclusivity isn’t helping their case.

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve got some terrific analysts here at NBC News. But Fox has the lion’s share of conservative pundits, and it makes booking a fuller spectrum of ideas and insights that much more difficult.

You know, it's kind of like the problem Fox has getting decent folks on the left to come on its network.

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