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Republican convention downsized

Events, speeches nixed due to Gustav

An expensive convention season just got more expensive.

Monday’s start of the Republican National Convention here has largely been put on hold as most activities have been cancelled with Hurricane Gustav expected to hit landfall in the morning. Speeches by President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were cancelled, and California Gov. Arnold Scharzenegger said he would not make it because of the state’s budget crisis.

It is just the latest in a series of logistical hurdles as the news networks struggle to cover the presidential race while mindful of shrinking budgets.

With the Democrats and Republicans throwing back-to-back confabs, the news networks didn’t have the usual time to deploy one set-up to the first city, then pack it up and move to the next city. Two separate deployments were required almost simultaneously. (Thanks, Olympics.)

Then, Barack Obama decided he wanted to accept his nomination not at Denver’s Pepsi Center – where most of the convention was held – but at Invesco Field, forcing the nets to cover costs of moving people and resources between two locations. (Thanks, Senator.)

Now, as the deadly hurricane threatens the Gulf Coast – particularly New Orleans, which is still trying to recover from Katrina three years ago – the nets are redeploying people and resources from St. Paul, Minn., where the GOP convention is about to begin, to the Crescent City. (Thanks, Gustav.)

On Sunday, journalists awaited word from McCain reps for the status of the convention, all while executives were wondering how to deploy their resources.

The nets never reveal costs, and in some cases, the redeployment may only be the price of a plane ticket for an anchor or correspondent.

But the conventions alone eat up lots of resources and coin – at least $500,000, by one insider’s estimate – and on Sunday night, as GOP planners were announcing cancellations of events Monday in anticipation of Gustav’s landfall, it was obvious that the pricey network set-ups in St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center would be close to idle for at least 24 hours.

The networks will be straddling both stories, but much of their top talent will be focused on Gustav.

CBS News has pulled Katie Couric from St. Paul and sent her to the Gulf Coast, where she will be joined correspondents Cynthia Bowers, Randall Pinkston, Byron Pitts, Dave Price, Tracy Smith and Hari Sreenivasan. Bob Schieffer will remain in St. Paul, but Harry Smith will anchor the “Early Show” in the Gulf area on Monday morning.

ABC News has sent anchor Charlie Gibson to New Orleans along with correspondents Bill Weir, Dan Harris, David Kerley, Jeffrey Kofman, Terry McCarthy, Steve Osunsami, Barbara Pinto and Mike von Fremd. “Nightline” anchor Terry Moran will also be in New Orleans, while George Stephanopoulos will remain in St. Paul.

NBC News has sent anchor Brian Williams to the Gulf region with correspondents Ann Curry, Lester Holt, Al Roker and a team of correspondents including Contessa Brewer, Don Teague, Janet Shamlian, Kerry Sanders, Lee Cowan, Mark Potter, Mary Murray, Michelle Kosinski, and others, according to the net. Former anchor Tom Brokaw will remain in St. Paul with Andrea Mitchell, Chuck Todd, David Gregory, John Yang, Luke Russert, Kelly O’Donnell, Mike Taibbi, Savannah Guthrie and Tom Costello.

Reports on both Gustav and the convention will appear on MSNBC as well as NBC.

Fox News Channel is planning heavy coverage of Gustav at least at the start and may stay with it depending on how the storm plays out. Shepard Smith will be in New Orleans along with Jeff Flock and Alexis Glick. Both Flock and Glick will be reporting for Fox Business Network.

Geraldo Rivera, Jon Scott and Trace Gallagher will be anchoring from Louisiana as Kris Gutierrez, Casey Stegall, Marianne Silber and Steve Harrigan will report from various locations along the coast. Catherine Herridge will be covering governmental briefings from Baton Rouge.

Also, Fox Business Network will be covering the storm on Monday.

Brit Hume will remain in St. Paul, as will “Fox & Friends,” which plans to devote most of the show to Gustav coverage.

According to media reports, CNN has deployed upward of 100 reporters, producers, anchors and crew to the region. Anderson Cooper hosted a special two-hour edition of “AC 360” from New Orleans on Sunday night, as the storm was beginning to lash the coast. Wolf Blitzer and John King remained in St. Paul.

The GOP gathering already was expected to be a less flashy affair than the Democratic Convention last week in Denver.

Event planners were scaling back plans for what was to be a week of parties. Friends of New Orleans was to have held a concert benefit for Katrina relief, ironically enough, on Monday at Minneapolis nightclub First Avenue, but the nature of the event was being reconsidered.

Delegates gathered at the Minneapolis Convention Center for a reception for the film “An American Carol,” with Lee Greenwood singing his standards. But compared to Denver, the Twin Cities on Sunday were subdued.

Ted Johnson contributed to this report.

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