Hurricane, Palin Roil the Start of GOP Convention

The Republican National Convention opened with news of Hurricane Gustav slamming the Gulf Coast. The first day's events were mostly canceled and the rest of the week remained up in the air.
By Michael Abramowitz and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 2, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn., Sept. 1 -- Republicans plan on resuming their long-planned national convention schedule Tuesday, a day after their opening events were curtailed because of Hurricane Gustav and roiled by their presumptive vice president's announcement that her 17-year-old daughter is five months pregnant.

With the threat posed by Gustav apparently receding, convention officials will return to the business of nominating Sen. John McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a McCain campaign official said Monday night.

Palin and her husband told the delegates gathered here that their daughter plans to raise the baby and will marry the father. "Our beautiful daughter Bristol came to us with news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned," Palin said in a statement issued Monday by McCain's campaign.. "We're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents. As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows she has our unconditional love and support."

Coming on the heels of Gustav, which led Republicans to cancel most of their opening-day events, Palin's revelation continued to reshape what Republicans had hoped would be a boisterous send-off for the McCain-Palin ticket. It also left some Republicans privately voicing concern that the campaign may have missed other potentially damaging background information about McCain's little-known pick. Palin arrived in St. Paul on Monday but had no public schedule as she prepared for her speech to the convention.

McCain aides pushed back hard Monday night against any suggestion that they had mishandled the selection process. "Nothing that has come out did not come out in the vet -- she was fully vetted," said a senior campaign adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Republicans canceled speeches by President Bush and Vice President Cheney and instead staged an abbreviated opening session highlighted by appearances by McCain's wife, Cindy, and first lady Laura Bush. Both urged delegates to contribute to disaster relief.

"Events in the Gulf Coast region have changed the focus of our attention, and our first priority now today is to ensure the safety and the well-being of those living in the Gulf Coast region," the first lady said after receiving a warm ovation from delegates.

Bush scrubbed his speech to the convention delegates Monday because of the storm, but he may address the gathering by satellite video, said two GOP strategists, including one in the McCain campaign.

Both McCain and Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, moved to shift their approaches on the campaign trail as Gustav approached the coast. Since Palin was named McCain's vice presidential pick, the running mates have steered clear of partisan rhetoric, stressing reform and trying to package themselves as outsiders.

McCain also shelved a series of rallies intended to introduce Palin and to serve as a prelude to her Wednesday debut in St. Paul. His only public appearance Monday was at a volunteer organization in Waterville, Ohio, where he helped pack supplies to be sent to the Gulf Coast. Later in the day, he met privately with Cardinal Justin Rigali, archbishop of Philadelphia.

During an appearance in Detroit, Obama set aside his standard stump speech and urged supporters to "give what you can" to the American Red Cross to help with relief efforts. "Today's not a day for political speeches," he told a large crowd gathered on a downtown plaza for an annual Labor Day parade. "There's a time for us to argue politics, but there's a time for us to come together as Americans."

Obama also found himself drawn into the discussion of Bristol Palin's pregnancy, telling reporters to "back off" the family.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company