Republicans gavel convention to order despite Gustav and protests
St. Paul, Minn. (AP) — Despite a pared-down version of the Republican National Convention schedule and a large protest march taking place outside, the republicans gaveled the convention to order this afternoon in St. Paul with hopes Sen. McCain would still speak Thursday night.
Today's edited schedule at the Republican National Convention gave two Minnesota Republicans some extra time to focus on their own campaigns.
Sixth District Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and 3rd District congressional candidate Erik Paulsen both spent the day outside the Xcel Center raising money and meeting potential voters.
McCain campaign officials said in a conference call with reporters that they were optimistic that John McCain will accept the GOP nomination for president in person and for the rest of the convention.
They also said they will announce Tuesday's convention schedule on Tuesday morning and that they're confident that Gustav won't bring a total halt to the convention.
Republicans staged a subdued opening to their storm-shadowed national convention on Monday, seeking aid for the Gulf Coast victims of Hurricane Gustav as well as support to send John McCain to the White House.
Personal news blended with the political when McCain's running mate announced that her 17-year-old unmarried daughter was pregnant. "We're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents," Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said in a statement with her husband.
Palin was in the Republican convention city, but not so McCain, who visited a disaster relief center in Ohio in the hours before delegates filed into their seats for the first time.
Aides said he was likely to deliver his nomination acceptance speech as scheduled from the convention podium on Thursday.
There was good money news for his fall campaign against Democrat Barack Obama: His campaign reported raising at least $47 million in August, his biggest monthly haul so far.
The opening day program was shorn of political rhetoric, and trimmed to two and a half hours from an intended seven in deference to the threat Gustav posed to New Orleans and other areas along the Gulf Coast.
Rather than a keynote address or other political oratory, the convention programmers gave McCain's wife, Cindy, and first lady Laura Bush top billing to make televised appeals for help for hurricane victims. The governors of four Gulf states were speaking by videotape.
Aides said they would determine the podium schedule for the balance of the week on a day-to-day basis.
The other business of the convention's opening session was adoption of a party platform, a document that largely sidesteps the national debate about the Iraq War.
"The waging of war - and the achieving of peace - should never be micromanaged in a party platform. ... In dealing with present conflicts or future crises, our next president must preserve all options," it said.
The war is one of the key issues in the campaign, with Democrat Barack Obama favoring the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops on a 16-month timetable and McCain saying a fixed schedule merely plays into the hands of al-Qaida and others targeting Iraqi and U.S. troops.
The platform also calls for a constitutional amendment banning abortion, the deportation of illegal immigrants convicted of gang crimes and no new taxes. "The last thing America needs now is tax hikes," it added.
Outside the Xcel Center, protesters smashed windows, punctured car tires and threw bottles during a march to the convention site. Police used pepper spray in confrontations with demonstrators and arrested five.
Instead of the single march that organizers had hoped for, fringe groups of anarchists and others wrought havoc along the streets and delayed some delegates who were arriving at the last minute.
St. Paul police spokesman Tom Walsh said the five were arrested for lighting a trash bin on fire.
Hundreds of miles away, McCain visited a disaster relief center in Waterville, Ohio, helping pack cleaning supplies and other items into plastic buckets that will be sent to assist residents of the Gulf Coast area. He said he hoped people would respond to the hurricane by "using whatever gifts we have to help our fellow Americans."
Democrats also swung their attention to the hurricane.
Obama urged hundreds of thousands of supporters to donate to the Red Cross to help victims of Gustav. In a mass e-mailing - and the same text-messaging system he used to announce his vice presidential pick - he asked them to "please give whatever you/ can afford, even $10, to make sure the American Red Cross has the resources to help those in the path of this storm."
He scaled back a Labor Day speech to unions in Detroit to keep attention on the Gulf Coast. After stops in Michigan and Wisconsin, he was returning to his Chicago headquarters to monitor the storm's progress and decide his schedule for the rest of the week.
Obama has said he may visit storm-damaged areas once things have "settled down."
Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden canceled plans to march in a Labor Day parade in Pittsburgh to monitor storm developments. "Our focus right now should be on what's happening in the Gulf," he said.
As for Palin's daughter, McCain's campaign aides said Monday's statement was issued to rebut Internet rumors that the governor's four-month-old baby was, in fact, daughter Bristol's child.
"Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family," Sarah and Todd Palin said in the brief statement.
The father was identified in the statement as Levi, but the campaign said it was not disclosing his full name or age or how he and Bristol know each other, citing privacy.
Aides said Palin had informed McCain about her daughter's pregnancy before she was picked to be his running mate. At several points during the discussions, McCain's team warned the governor that the scrutiny of her private life would be intense and that there was nothing she could do to prepare for it.
"Senator McCain's view is this is a private family matter. As parents, (the Palins) love their daughter unconditionally and are going to support their daughter," said McCain spokesman Steve Schmidt.
"Life happens," he added.
Prominent religious conservatives, many of them long cool to McCain's candidacy, issued statements of support.
James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, commended the Palins for "for not just talking about their pro-life and pro-family values, but living them out even in the midst of trying circumstances."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)