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It was a day of adjustments as the Republican convention got underway in the Twin Cities under the shadow of Gustav. The day’s big events, prime time speeches by President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, were cancelled. Instead, Laura Bush and Cindy McCain stopped by the St. Paul Xcel Energy center to urge support for fund-raising efforts to aid the hurricane victims as delegates took care of a few hours of low-key procedural business.

Some delegates bemoaned the lost chance to hear the President speak. But among Republican strategists, lobbyists and others who stayed busy attending the myriad receptions, seminars and other events that were still taking place around the edges of the convention, an intriguing question repeatedly popped up: might it actually have been better for McCain that the President didn’t show up for the Arizona Senator’s coming out party?

The McCain campaign had faced pulling off a tricky maneuver: the President remains hugely popular among the core members of the Republican Party, including many of the rank-and-file delegates in the hall. But in the rest of the country, he is deeply unpopular and sports near record low rankings in the polls.

With McCain working hard to distinguish himself from the Bush Administration’s record and fend off charges by rival Barack Obama that his election would mean little more than a third Bush term, many worried that big network play of the President speaking to an enthusiastic throng of Republican supporters would make it far harder for McCain to pull off that delicate dance. By cancelling plans to speak at the convention in order to focus on the hurricane and its relief efforts, Bush may ultimately have helped McCain more than had he shown up.

“It’s time for the country to talk about McCain and Sarah Palin; that’s what this convention is about,” said one backer. With Bush out of the spotlight and focused on the hurricane “this will further focus this election where it should be.”

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