GOP Convention Opening With Appeal for Gustav Aid

By: AP
By: AP

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- 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.

Outside the Xcel center, an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 anti-war protesters marched toward the convention, some of them smashing windows, puncturing tires and throwing bottles along the way. Police used pepper spray on the demonstrators and made at least five arrests.

The convention was less than 15 minutes old when Mike Duncan, chairman of the Republican National Committee, asked delegates to use their cell phones to text a five-digit code that would make a donation to the Red Cross for victims of the hurricane.

There was money news of a more conventional type, when McCain's aides announced he had raised at least $47 million last month for the fall campaign against Democratic rival Barack Obama. it was the largest monthly amount to date for the GOP candidate.

The opening day convention program was shorn of political rhetoric, and trimmed to 2 1/2 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.

Some Republicans were eager for a more traditional convention week.

"When the storm passes and we can see that there are enough resources and that lives are not in danger any longer and help is on its way or in place, then that'll be the green light for us to enjoy the celebration we're all here for," said Kelly Burt, a delegate from California.

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 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.

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."

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Associated Press reporters Amy Forliti, Sara Kugler, Liz Sidoti and Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.

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