Speaking via satellite after Hurricane Gustav wrecked havoc with the first day of Republican gathering, Bush referenced the storm, saying, "We are thankful that the damage in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast was less than many had feared," while lauding the efforts of GOP governors in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
Bush touted McCain, his 2000 Republican nomination rival, and Palin, saying, "John McCain's life has prepared him to make those choices. He is ready to lead this nation," Bush said.
Highlighting the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Bush said, "We live in a dangerous world. And we need a president who understands the lessons of Sept. 11, 2001: that to protect America, we must stay on the offense, stop attacks before they happen, and not wait to be hit again. The man we need is John McCain."
Of the Alaska governor, Bush said, "I am optimistic about something else: When the debates have ended, and all the ads have run, and it is time to vote, Americans will look closely at the judgment, the experience and the policies of the candidates, and they will cast their ballots for the McCain-Palin ticket."
The Obama campaign fired back Tuesday, arguing Bush has "passed the torch" to McCain.
"Tonight, George Bush enthusiastically passed the torch to the man who's earned it by voting with him 90 percent of the time, and who will continue this president's legacy for the next four years -- his disastrous economic policies, his foreign policy that hasn't made us safer, and his misguided war in Iraq that's costing us $10 billion a month. The man George Bush needs may be John McCain, but the change America needs is Barack Obama," said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe.
Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, the "Law and Order" star who abandoned his own presidential bid, went after Barack Obama on abortion rights.
"We need a president who doesn't think that the protection of the unborn or a newly born baby is above his pay grade," Thompson said.
Thompson also defended Palin.
"What a breath of fresh air Sarah Palin is!" he said to to wild applause from the crowd.
"Let's be clear: The selection of Gov. Palin has the other side and their friends in the media in a state of panic," Thompson said. "She is a courageous, successful reformer who is not afraid to take on the establishment."
Thompson said he believes McCain and Palin will "take the federal bureaucracy by the scruff of the neck and give it a good shaking."
Thompson emphasized McCain's military service in Vietnam, and argued his character and judgment were defined by his experience as a prisoner of war.
"John McCain cannot raise his arms above his shoulders. He cannot salute the flag of the country for which he sacrificed so much. Tonight, as we begin this convention week, yes, we stand with him. And we salute him. We salute his character and his courage," Thompson said.
The keynote address by Rudy Giuliani, another vanquished McCain rival, was originally scheduled for Tuesday but has been pushed back to Wednesday night.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent and one-time Democratic vice presidential candidate talked about McCain's "maverick" status in the Republican party, how he has reached across the aisle to work with Democrats in the U.S. Senate.