Could Gustav derail the GOP?

With more than two years of meticulous planning under their belts, organizers of the Republican National Convention are warily watching Tropical Storm Gustav to see if it turns into a hurricane and slams into the Gulf Coast.

As the storm gained momentum Thursday off the coast of Jamaica, it was headed on a trajectory toward New Orleans, which was hit three years ago today by Hurricane Katrina. If it strikes the Gulf Coast on Monday, that would coincide with the first day of the GOP convention at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

"We're monitoring it," said convention spokeswoman Melissa Subbotin. "There's absolutely no plan to postpone [the convention]."

Earlier in the day, though, Tucker Bounds, John McCain's spokesman, said a possibility exists that the convention could be postponed but added, "I have no specifics to announce."

"Senator McCain has always been sensitive to national crisis -- in the 2000 race he postponed his announcement [to run for the presidency] because of the situation in the Balkans," Bounds said. "And we are monitoring the situation very closely,"

Maria Cino, the convention's chief executive officer, was vague on whether the convention's minute-by-minute schedule might be altered to accommodate President Bush, should he be diverted to Louisiana because of the storm.

"Obviously, we are planning to go on as planned,'' she said. "We'll wait and see what happens. Right now, we have no indication."

"There's always contingency plans," Cino said. She declined to answer whether those plans included moving the president's convention speech to another day.

The Washington Post reported that the storm threat is serious enough that White House officials also are debating whether Bush should cancel his scheduled convention appearance Monday, according to administration officials and others familiar with the discussion.

For Bush and McCain, Gustav threatens to provide an untimely reminder of Katrina. A new major storm along the Gulf Coast would renew memories of one of the low points of the Bush administration, while pulling public attention away from McCain's formal coronation as the GOP presidential nominee.

Senior Republicans said images of political celebration in the Twin Cities while thousands of Americans flee a hurricane could be disastrous.

One senior GOP official said that he does not anticipate a convention delay at this point, but that the event would have to be reorganized if a large storm hit a major city on the coast.

"You would have to dramatically change the nature of what you do. Much less partisan. Much less political," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because internal discussions are ongoing. He added that all of the speakers would have to retool their addresses to reflect the storm and its impact. "Otherwise, it's the elephant in the room."

The Washington Post, Marketwatch and staff writers Bob von Sternberg and Mike Kaszuba contributed to this report.