- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 2, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn. | Politics gave way to charity out of respect to those suffering from Hurricane Gustav when the Republican National Convention gaveled open Monday, but outside the Xcel Energy Center the parties rolled on.

With President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney canceling their speeches, the convention stuck mostly to official business, punctuated by brief appearances to appeal for charity by Laura Bush and Cindy McCain.

The bigger news among the delegates was the revelation that the 17-year-old daughter of their party’s presumptive vice-presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, is pregnant. Mrs. Palin, who was out of view in the Twin Cities writing a speech to be delivered Wednesday, earned a big round of applause when Mrs. Bush mentioned her name.

“George and I were planning to come to enjoy this convention, to have a really good time, and we would have been here tonight speaking. But, of course, as we all know, events on the Gulf Coast region have changed the focus of our attention,” Mrs. Bush said. “Our first priority now today is to ensure the safety and the well-being of those living in the Gulf Coast region.”

She and Mrs. McCain also introduced videotaped comments from Republican Gulf state governors, who had canceled or delayed plans to attend. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who leads the hardest-hit state, was the only governor unable to send a message.

The exact content of Tuesday’s program was still up in the air, although Republican officials said they expect some sort of program to take place at night. The original schedule had called for speeches by governors, members of Congress and some of Mr. McCain’s former rivals for the Republican nomination.

Even as the official proceedings were put on hold, the money still rolled - not only for relief efforts, but also at the fundraisers and parties that characterize these conventions.

John McCain‘s campaign told the Associated Press that he raised $47 million in contributions in August, the last month for which he will be collecting donations. After he accepts his party’s presidential nomination Thursday night, he will be tied to the public-financing system and receive taxpayer funds.

McCain campaign officials said with the hurricane weakening, they were optimistic that Mr. McCain would be able to accept the nomination in person. This weekend, they had said he might accept it from a remote location by video.

Mrs. Palin’s daughter Bristol’s pregnancy was announced in a statement from the McCain campaign. The vice-presidential candidate and her husband said their daughter would keep the child and would marry the father. She asked the press to respect her family’s privacy.

Coupled with an investigation into accusations that she wanted the state police to retaliate against a trooper involved in a custody battle with her sister, the revelation led critics to argue that Mr. McCain’s vetting effort was weak.

But a McCain campaign official said Mr. McCain learned of the pregnancy and decided that it didn’t matter. The official also said the trooper accusations were examined and deemed baseless.

The revelation hasn’t dented conservatives’ support for Mrs. Palin.

“Honestly, I think it has the opposite effect,” said Connie Mackey, senior vice president of Family Research Council Action. “Their daughter has a problem, they’re handling it within the family and they’ve made decisions that are best for both the mother and the baby.”

Still, she said the revelation is a distraction during a week when Mrs. Palin should be telling her powerful story and helping build the enthusiasm she has brought to the campaign.

“I’m only sad we’re not talking about her record of cleaning up government in a state, and an 80 percent approval rate over two years,” she said.

Outside the Xcel Center, members of the Connecticut delegation were attacked while other bands of protesters smashed windows and slashed tires, prompting 56 arrests.

On the Democratic side, presidential nominee Barack Obama announced that he would cancel Tuesday’s planned campaign activities and would monitor Hurricane Gustav from his home in Chicago.

“This is one of those moments when we go above politics,” he said, offering praise for both Mr. McCain and Mr. Bush.

On Monday, Mr. Obama retooled what had been a busy day of battleground-state campaigning, appearing at events in Michigan and Wisconsin but cutting the political rhetoric and asking voters instead to give their time and money to hurricane victims.

“Although we are prayerful that this will not be the same kind of situation that we saw three years ago, today is not a day for political speeches,” Mr. Obama said at a Labor Day rally in Detroit, where many had waited for hours in the hot sun.

Though Mr. Obama kept his words friendly toward his opponents, the people introducing him in Milwaukee did not spare Mr. Bush from criticism.

One speaker blasted the Iraq government’s $79 billion budget surplus, considering how much money the U.S. has spent fighting there, and another said that Republicans were trying to suppress the vote.

Two Obama field organizers asked the crowd in Milwaukee to join the campaign’s text message list and stressed the importance of voter registration, but did not mention Mr. Obama’s promise to use the list to solicit hurricane donations.

In St. Paul and Minneapolis, Republicans cut the politicking but not the celebrating, though organizers of the nightly parties scrambled to use the events to collect money for charities offering hurricane relief.

The Virginia delegation’s Arcade Night Party, for instance, had a cardboard box with “First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge” scrawled on the front. At-large delegate Ben Marchi said the group likely collected a few hundred dollars.

“We’re just watching CNN religiously to see what happens and mobilize as quickly as possible,” said Chrissy Faessen, deputy director of Rock the Vote, which has hosted two parties during the convention.

One of its parties planned to honor female politicians was renamed “RightNow Relief for the Gulf Coast.” At the other, held on Sunday, speakers asked guests to keep Gustav’s victims in mind.

The liquor industry, which planned to host a party Monday night in Minneapolis, changed the name of its party from Spirits of Minneapolis to Spirits of the Gulf Coast. The group of sponsors, which included the Distilled Spirits Council, Daimler, Amgen, Lockheed Martin and others, issued an e-mail before the party asking attendees to make a donation to the American Red Cross Hurricane Relief Fund and promising to match contributions.

Delegates and other partygoers said they understood the scaled-back convention and were willing to make donations to charity.

“We’re still able to have a good time and focus on the people struggling,” said Kyle Hurralde, 21, a convention volunteer from New Jersey. “It really fits with McCain’s message of ‘Country First.’”

The parties reputed to be the best at the convention are still up in the air.

Representatives from the arts lobbying group Creative Coalition and technology company Google said details of their parties - separate events for the entertainment industry and a Vanity Fair/Google party - were still being worked out.

The Recording Academy’s party benefiting the Grammy Foundation will still go on, said Daryl Friedman, vice president for advocacy and government relations. The foundation supports the arts and helped artists in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

At the Xcel Center, the official proceedings lasted less than two hours. After they ended, Mrs. Bush took the stage and received strong applause that ended only after she told the audience, “OK, you can be seated.”

“The effect of Hurricane Gustav is just now being measured. When such events occur, we’re reminded that, first, we’re all Americans and that our shared American ideals will always transcend political parties and partisanship,” Mrs. Bush said.

She was joined later by Mrs. McCain, who told delegates how to help hurricane victims.

Unlike the Democrats’ convention in Denver, where fire marshals had to cut off entry to the Pepsi Center because the audiences for some speeches were too large, the Republicans left their hockey-and-basketball arena only two-thirds full, as alternates and guests stayed away.

cChristina Bellantoni, traveling with the Obama campaign, contributed to this article.

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