* Bush, Cheney to miss Republican convention
* Most convention work suspended for Monday
* Gustav heads for New Orleans, Gulf oil fields
* McCain may address Republicans from Gulf area
By Steve Holland
ST. PAUL, Aug 31 (Reuters) - Republican John McCain on Sunday ordered political speeches canceled for his Republican nominating convention on Monday to avoid a festive atmosphere while Americans cope with Hurricane Gustav.
McCain and other Republicans moved quickly to try to avoid a repeat of 2005 when President George W. Bush was seen as out of touch as Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.
“Of course this is a time when we have to do away with most of our party politics,” said McCain, who has been harshly critical of Bush’s performance during Katrina.
Republican leaders, including McCain himself, say it would be unseemly to be seen celebrating while a natural disaster unfolded on the Gulf coast 1,100 miles (1,700 kms) away. Organizers said they would plan day to day based on the impact of the hurricane.
McCain, speaking by video hookup from St. Louis after visiting an emergency command center in Jackson, Mississippi, said it was time that “we take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats and say ‘America, we’re with you.’”
Republicans were in St. Paul for their four-day convention to formally nominate McCain as their candidate to face Democrat Barack Obama in the Nov. 4 election.
Whether McCain himself would appear in St. Paul, Minnesota, was up in the air. McCain was scheduled to close the convention with his nomination acceptance speech on Thursday.
He told NBC News it was possible that he would deliver his acceptance speech by satellite from the Gulf region, saying “all possibilities and all scenarios” were open.
Bush himself was intent on showing his concern about the impact of Gustav as well.
He and Vice President Dick Cheney both canceled visits to St. Paul for the convention. Both had been scheduled to speak on Monday. The White House said Bush might address the convention in some way later in the week.
Visiting the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington, Bush called the storm “very dangerous” and urged people in the storm zone to heed evacuation orders. He was headed to Texas to oversee the hurricane response.
“I have every expectation that we will not see the mistakes of Katrina repeated. In fact I’m very optimistic that we will see a degree of cooperation and effort on behalf of any victims, of anyone whose lives are touched by this great natural disaster,” McCain said after hearing about emergency preparations in New Orleans and along the Gulf coast.
McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, told reporters the convention would have an abbreviated schedule on Monday -- only those activities that were required -- and urged all Republican delegates attending the convention to avoid partisan rhetoric.
Davis left open the possibility that other activities the rest of the week could be canceled or curtailed, saying he could not speculate about what would happen in St. Paul beyond the minimal events being held on Monday.
Republican governors from the affected area, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, were unable to attend the St. Paul party.
As hundreds of thousands of people were evacuating the New Orleans area to get away from the storm’s predicted impact zone, McCain visited Mississippi to review emergency preparations.
He was joined by his newly minted vice presidential running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Washington outsider whose surprising selection on Friday stunned the political world.
Barack Obama was steering clear of making a visit at this point to avoid diverting resources away from the preparations and relief efforts. He declined to criticize McCain.
“I think that with a big storm like this raises bipartisan concerns and I think for John to want to find out what is going on is fine,” Obama said in Lima, Ohio.
Obama said if Hurricane Gustav wreaked havoc on the Gulf, he would tap his e-mail network of 2 million donors to seek help for the storm victims.
In St. Paul, authorities said they had arrested six people on charges for planning to riot and damage property in several raids on Friday and Saturday.
Police said they found throwing knives, axes, buckets of urine, flammable liquids and a variety of equipment that could be used to block streets and disable vehicles in Minneapolis and West St. Paul.
In an interview on the Fox News Channel, McCain defended Palin against criticism she lacked experience, especially on foreign policy, and should not be a heartbeat away from the presidency.
McCain said Palin, governor less than two years, had been to Kuwait to see her state’s National Guard troops.
McCain’s wife Cindy McCain said on ABC’s “This Week” program that Palin had knowledge about Russia because her state is the closest U.S. state to Russia.
“Remember, Alaska is the closest part of our continent to Russia. So it’s not as if she doesn’t understand what’s at stake here,” she said. (Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky and Donna Smith in Washington and Emily Kaiser and Andy Sullivan in St. Paul, Editing by Howard Goller and Jackie Frank)