President Bush and Vice President Cheney scrapped plans to address the convention on Monday, and McCain's campaign chartered a jet to fly delegates back to their hurricane-threatened states along the Gulf Coast. Campaign manager Rick Davis said the first-night program was being cut from seven hours to two and one half.
The hasty reordering of an event months in the making underscored not only the risk posed by Gustav, but also an intense desire by McCain and Republicans to avoid the political damage that Bush suffered from his widely criticized response to Hurricane Katrina three years ago.
The formal business of the convention includes nominating McCain for president and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate on Wednesday. McCain's acceptance speech, set for prime time on Thursday evening, is among the most critical events of the campaign for his chances of winning the White House.
McCain said he was looking forward to attending the convention but did not say when he would arrive. He spoke via satellite from St. Louis after he and Palin received a briefing on hurricane preparations in Jackson, Miss.
Campaign manager Davis told reporters inside the convention hall that the opening program on Monday would be "business only and will refrain from political rhetoric."
To help those in need, he said, "We are working with the delegations, financial people, finance committees, many other concerned individuals to do what we can to raise money for various charities that operate in the Gulf Coast region."
As for the convention schedule, he added that further adjustments would be made on a day-to-day basis.
McCain said of his briefing in Mississippi: "I'm happy to report to you that the coordination and the work that's being done at all levels appears to be excellent." He cited remaining challenges in communications and search and rescue operations, but emphasized that the response seemed to be going more smoothly than the one three years ago.
"I have every expectation that we will not see the mistakes of Katrina repeated," he said.
The Bush administration's handling of that storm contributed to a plunge in the president's approval ratings that helped the Democrats win control of Congress in 2006.