Republicans Curtail Convention Opening Day

Storm cuts down schedule, but Laura Bush, Cindy McCain still take stage.

ByABC News
August 31, 2008, 11:06 PM

Sept 1, 2008 — -- It's not the convention the Republicans had planned.

This week was supposed to belong to John McCain and his vice presidential pick, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the first woman ever on a Republican presidential ticket.

First what was supposed to be a weeklong televised Republican extravaganza was been blown off course by Hurricane Gustav, a storm that is hit the Gulf Coast today and forced an historically large evacuation.

Another storm of sorts hit the convention Monday. Creating a firestorm of media attention, Palin confirmed her 17-year-old daughter Bristol is about five months pregnant and is going to keep the child and marry the father. The fact her daughter is keeping the baby may increase Palin's stock with anti-abortion advocates who are already supportive of Palin's anti-abortion rights position.

For the latest on Hurricane Gustav, watch "Gustav Storms the Gulf" on a special edition of "20/20" at 10 p.m. ET

A McCain official told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that McCain knew about the pregnancy and "didn't believe Governor Palin should be disqualified" for this.

"If Democrats try to attack, it will backfire spectacularly," a McCain campaign official told Stephanopoulos.

With the real storm -- Hurricane Gustav -- hitting the Louisiana coast midday Monday -- the opening day of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. -- the McCain campaign scrapped almost its entire program for the day, including a speech by President George W. Bush.

First lady Laura Bush, who is far more popular with the American public than her husband, was dispatched to St. Paul, appearing today on morning programs, and spoke at the close of a truncated afternoon convention session -- complete with video comments from all the Gulf Coast governors except Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

"Our first priority for today and in the coming days is to ensure the safety and well-being of those living in the Gulf Coast region," Laura Bush told delegates after she received a standing ovation from the Republican crowd.

"The effect of Hurricane Gustav is just now being measured. When such events occur, we are reminded that first, we are all Americans -- and that our shared American ideals will always transcend political parties and partisanship," Laura Bush said.

Cindy McCain appeared on stage beside the first lady, sending the crowd into another spasm of applause.

"I would ask that each one of us commit to join together to aid those in need as quickly as possible. As John has been saying for the last several days, this is a time when we take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats," Cindy McCain told the crowd.

A charter plane carrying Cindy McCain and Palin touched down in Minneapolis Sunday night. The potential first lady and her son Jack appeared Monday at a phone bank fundraiser at the Minneapolis Hilton thanking volunteers for their efforts.

"Thank you for taking time out from what should be a joyous occasion to do what Americans do best, which is be generous," Cindy McCain told the 100 volunteers present. She spent about 10 minutes going around the room speaking with volunteers, while Jack sat down and made some calls.

McCain visited a disaster relief center in Toledo, Ohio, Monday, stopping by the International Services of Hope/IMPACT Disaster Relief Center to shake hands with volunteers. He also packed up a few boxes of cleaning supplies to be sent to the relief effort.