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With Gustav fading, Republicans get back to business

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 2, 2008 - ST. PAUL - With the wrath of Hurricane Gustav fading, some speakers at the luncheons dropped the courtesies and picked up their knives, not to eat but to carve out sharp GOP positions on domestic and foreign policy issues. In the process, some took a few jabs at Barack Obama, too.

By far the sharpest attack came from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who wondered at one point what's so politically incorrect about the term "Islamic terrorist."

He then told the audience: "I'm trying to figure out who it insults that you care about."

Overall, however, Giuliani's remarks at Missouri's GOP luncheon were pretty subdued, as were those of two other main speakers - former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele and former United Nations Envoy John R. Bolton. During the two-hour luncheon, nary a word was spoken about the controversy stirred up by the news that the daughter of their vice presidential candidate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, was five months pregnant and intended to marry the father. Instead, Tuesday's session was all about the business of selling the party's ticket of Sen. John McCain and Palin to voters.

Giuliani said McCain had demonstrated repeatedly his ability to be president by his willingness to put country ahead of self, first as a hero during military service, second in his strong rebuke of Russia for its invasion of Georgia and as recently as this week in his decision to curtail Monday's convention schedule so to spend time helping victims of Gustav.

Giuliani argued that Democrats "want to make 9/11 go away," but he said that was "an entirely unrealistic approach to the dangers we face."

He said that McCain, unlike Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama, "has the experience to guide us, to keep our country strong. He's willing to face our enemies."

Steele paid a few compliments to the fact that Obama and Palin were making history. But he said McCain would make history as president by being "the first of his generation to hold that office."

In an apparent reference to the Obama's presidential race, Steele said voters had been "under a fog in the last two years of a long campaign." He probably surprised some by calling Republicans the original reformers, mentioning the party's abolitionism, support of women's suffrage and constitutional reform (passing the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, which freed slaves, made them citizens and gave them voting rights). The Civil Rights Acts, he added, would not have happened without Republicans focusing on and pushing the issue.

"Republicans empowered newly freed slaves to get a piece of this dream," he said. "We've fought for that, died for that so that America stood strong."

He said Republican still had work to do as reformers, with McCain setting the right tone by telling Republicans that the election wasn't about him but about "people, families, communities in Mississipi, Florida and Louisiana. He reminded us we should be focused on their interest. We came together for America as Americans because that was the important thing to do."

He then turned to Palin whom he called a tough woman who would be an effective vice president.

"If you think you're going to mess with Palin, she's got something for us. You're not ready for Palin."

He exhorted delegates to return to their communities and work hard to support the McCain-Palin ticket, then quipped to the predominantly white luncheon audience: "Don't make me mad. You don't wanna see a black man come looking for you."

Bolton, meanwhile, spoke up for Palin on national security. He said he and his wife had visited Alaska where he had engaged Palin in discussions on a range of international issues.

"It's more than a little strange to me that people are criticizing Gov. Palin's record, saying she's not qualified to step in" if she's required to replace McCain. He said the public needs to "remind Sen. Obama that he's running for president, not class president."

He said Palin had demonstrated "energy in the executive" by running a "large complex state. She has worked to help develop a gas pipeline from Alaska to the lower 48. She stood up to oil companies to make sure they took into account the welfare of Alaska. She fought against her own party. I think that speaks to vision and confidence."

In domestic and international topics that Bolton said he and Palin discussed, Bolton described Palin as "thoughtful and quick on the issues."

The delegates also were treated to word of praise for McCain from acquaintances from his military years and from his mother, Roberta. Sen. Christopher S. "Kit" Bond, who introduced all the speakers, reminded delegates that Missouri was a battleground state for both parties.

"John McCain has made it clear how important he thinks Missouri is," Bond said. "What we need to do is show him we are serious."

Now that the wrath of Gustav is behind them, Republicans are moving more toward a more conventional convention -- as this luncheon well illustrated. Bond and others said prayers for the victims of the hurricane. But they all made clear that, starting today, the party would try to energize the troops to fight hard for the election of the McCain-Palin ticket in November.

Robert Joiner has carved a niche in providing informed reporting about a range of medical issues. He won a Dennis A. Hunt Journalism Award for the Beacon’s "Worlds Apart" series on health-care disparities. His journalism experience includes working at the St. Louis American and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he was a beat reporter, wire editor, editorial writer, columnist, and member of the Washington bureau.

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