Laura Bush and Cindy McCain Put the Convention Focus on Gustav

A call for help and bipartisanship at a a scaled back GOP gathering

ST. PAUL, Minn. - First lady Laura Bush and Sen. John McCain's wife jointly addressed delegates to the Republican National Convention on Monday, but their message was directed to Gulf Coast states hit by Hurricane Gustav: Now is the time to aid the victims, not wallow in partisanship.

Standing in for the president, who was overseeing hurricane relief efforts from Texas, Bush acknowledged that the first family had been “planning to come to this convention to have a good time.” But the news from Louisiana and Mississippi “changed our attention, and our first priority now is to protect the safety of those living in the Gulf Coast region.”

Cindy McCain, wife of the man whom the delegates will nominate for president this week, joined the first lady briefly on the podium, declaring: “This is a time when we take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats.”

McCain directed viewers to a Web site, where they could make donations.

Republicans drastically scaled back the opening day of the convention, turning the day’s events into an appeal to raise money for victims of the hurricane.

The convention was less than 15 minutes old when Robert “Mike” Duncan, chairman of the Republican National Committee, asked delegates to take out their cell phones and text a five- digit code that would make a donation to the Red Cross to help victims of Gustav, which made landfall Monday in Louisiana.

While the abbreviated roster of speakers called for John McCain’s election in November, the main message of the day was, as Bush put it, that “first, we’re all Americans and that our shared American ideals will always transcend political parties and partisanship.”

Outside the Xcel center, 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 13 arrests.

The main piece of business was the adoption of the party platform, which is at odds with McCain on abortion rights.

The nonbinding document calls for an outright ban on abortion. It does not include exceptions allowing abortion in cases of rape, incest or where a woman’s life would be in danger, exceptions that McCain favors.

But across the convention site, talk focused on the announcement that the 17-year-old, unmarried daughter of McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, was pregnant — a disclosure the campaign said was aimed at rebutting Internet rumors that Palin’s youngest son, who was born in April, was actually her daughter’s. 

In a statement Monday, the campaign said Palin’s daughter Bristol was due to have a child in December. It said she would keep her baby and marry the child's 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. We’re proud of Bristol’s decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents,” Sarah and Todd Palin said in the brief statement.

McCain’s Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, took note of speculation that rumors about the child were being fueled by liberal Internet activists and said, “I think people’s families are off-limits, and people’s children are especially off-limits.”

“Our people were not involved in any way,” Obama told reporters in Monroe, Mich., noting that his mother gave birth to him when she was just 18. “And if I thought anyone in my campagin was involved in something like that, they’d be fired.”

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