The Republicans unveiled a 42-inch-high wood laminate podium and stage Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center, and immediately used it to criticize the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

"Obviously, there's a big contrast," said Maria Cino, the president of the Republican National Convention who invoked John McCain's name repeatedly while describing the stage to a host of reporters. "It's a very simplistic stage. It's much closer to the audience."

Shortly after Cino addressed the media, Republican officials handed out copies of the New York Post, which criticized the stage used Thursday by Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama at his outdoor acceptance speech in Denver. The story carried the headline, "'O' MY GOD, Dems erect Obama temple."

Cino said the Xcel Center stage, which sits about 4 feet above the convention floor, was similar to what "McCain has used throughout his campaign, where he's talking to his audience, not standing above his audience."

Cino declined to disclose how much the stage cost, telling reporters only that it was less than $1 million and built under budget. The stage features a 50- by 30-foot high-definition video screen that looms behind the podium.

The first bundle of large balloons hung from the ceiling, part of what Cino said would be 200,000 balloons that would be dropped during the four-day convention that starts Monday.



A new passenger screening device to detect explosives hidden on a body will be on display at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport this morning.

The Passive Millimeter Wave, a mobile tripod sensor system designed to detect concealed explosives, will allow Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers to screen passengers while not having to stand in place.

The device arrives just in time for next week's convention after being piloted at the Denver International Airport for this week's Democratic convention. No incidents were reported in Denver.

Kenneth Kasprisin, the Twin Cites airport's federal security director, said the devices are expected to remain there for at least 90 days.



Organizers of a post-RNC party at the Landmark Center asked staff members to remove a swastika-bearing banner from a second-story historical exhibit for fear that it might appear in the background of photos taken of Republican dignitaries and delegates.

Michael Luick-Thrams, executive director of the Traces Center for History and Culture, said the museum would not remove or cover the banner from the exhibit about Midwesterners in World War II that runs through early November.

"That's not how we work," he said. "We're telling about the past so people might learn for the future; sometimes the past is messy, and it's not very photogenic."



A representative for Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling's office has canceled an order for 150 Twin Cities guidebooks from Entropy Publishing of Minneapolis because the 220-page booklet includes six pages of content aimed at gay and lesbian visitors.

The booklets, created by the company that also publishes the Rake magazine online, were meant as a gift to members of the Virginia delegation to the Republican Convention, said Randy Marcus, Bollings' chief of staff.

An e-mail by Bolling political director Melissa Busse sent to Tom Bartel, editor of the "Secrets of the City" guidebook, says, in part, "Upon looking at [the book], though, having a section dedicated solely to GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual] will be a BIG problem for many of our folks. We simply can't hand them out."

Marcus said that the decision was made without Bolling's approval or knowledge, and that the lieutenant governor would not have objected to the content.

Bartel said he might deliver the books to the group's hotel anyway, "and let people make up their own minds.

"I think it's kind of foolish. ... It's not like we're jumping up and saying you have to be gay to come to the Twin Cities."



The University of Minnesota has warned students that they could face discipline if they are arrested during protests at convention.

Students for a Democratic Society accused the university of a trying to "scare students" from participating in protests during the convention.

Jerry Rinehart, vice provost for student affairs, denied that, but in an e-mail sent to all students, he wrote that if a person is arrested or ticketed "for illegal activity that damages property or poses risks to the safety of others, on or off the campus, such behavior will be considered for adjudication under the student conduct code."

"While I encourage you to engage in the political process, please use good judgment regarding participation in activities that might violate state or local laws or the university's Student Code of Conduct," Rinehart wrote.

Tracy Molm, a student at the university and a member of Students for a Democratic Society, said that three busloads of students are going to Monday's antiwar march from the State Capitol to the Xcel Energy Center, where the convention is taking place.



Alleging free-speech violations, a protest group that wanted to erect a Jumbotron TV screen near the Xcel Center has sued Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau and a board she chairs that supervises the State Capitol grounds.

True Blue Minnesota says it was denied a variance to allow a Jumbotron screen showing art, documentaries and posters with antiwar and anti-GOP themes at Triangle Park, at John Ireland and Kellogg Boulevards, during the GOP convention.

Citing safety concerns, the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board voted 5 to 5 against issuing the variance, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in Ramsey County District Court. Lawyers for True Blue expect the case to be heard today.