Republican Convention Turns Focus on Palin

With worst of hurricane over, GOP to turn to convention politics as usual.

ST. PAUL, Minn. Sept. 2, 2008 — -- The Republicans Tuesday delicately pivoted from a focus on assisting Gulf coast residents fleeing Hurricane Gustav, to a focus on politics, resuming a convention schedule including a speech tonight via satellite by President Bush from the White House.

As Republican National Convention officials prepared to get their prime time program back on track after Gustav blew it briefly off course, the GOP was weathering a storm of a different kind over Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska.

The little-known politician and her family became the center of attention this week after Palin released a stunning statement in which she said her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant and intends to keep the baby and marry the young father.

Watch the ABC News live special with Charlie Gibson, Diane Sawyer, and George Stephanopoulos from the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis tonight on ABC at 10 p.m. ET

The McCain campaign continued to say they were aware of the situation beforehand and did not believe it should keep Palin off the ticket.

In an interview with, McCain surrogate South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham defended McCain's choice of Palin.

"What if John had said 'I'm sorry but I can't pick you because of this'? Then people would have lost respect for him," Graham said. "None of us want 17 year old pregnancies but how you handle it is the important thing."

Of the media focus now on the Palin pregnancy, Graham said, "This reinforces she has a loving family and handles adversity well." Graham said of the pregnancy disclosure.

"We're trying to change things in Washington," he said, "If she can so for Washington what she did for Alaska -- homerun pick."

Since Palin joined Republican John McCain on the Republican ticket there have been stories that she was once a member of the Alaska Independence Party, never had a passport or traveled overseas until last year, that her husband was arrested 22 years ago on a drunken driving charge, and that she pushed for $27 million worth of federal earmarks into a bill for the tiny town of Wasilla while she was its mayor.

She is also the center of a legislative ethics investigation in Alaska into whether she abused her power in dismissing the state's public safety commissioner for not intervening in a family dispute with a former brother in law who was an Alaska trooper, who was allegedly abusive toward Palin's family members.

"I think what a lot of Republican operatives and delegates here are asking is what else is out there about Gov. Palin?" ABC News' George Stephanopoulos told "Good Morning America" Tuesday.

"Was the vetting process complete and professional? ... And finally, what does it say about Sen. McCain's judgment that he chose someone with no national security experience?" Stephanopoulos said.

Speaking to convention delegates Tuesday night will be President George Bush, who was scheduled to speak to the Republican convention Monday.

The president will now appear via satellite, as first reported by ABC News' chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos.

Tonight will be dedicated to a a 'biographical sketch' of Republican presidential nominee John McCain, and will focus on his service to the nation as a fighter pilot, a prisoner-of-war, and a longtime U.S. senator, though he will not appear at the convention in person.

Tonight's headliners are Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent and onetime Democratic vice presidential candidate, and Fred Thompson, the former senator and "Law and Order" star who abandoned his own presidential bid. The keynote address by Rudy Giuliani, another vanquished McCain rival, was originally scheduled for tonight but has been pushed back to an undetermined night.

Watch ABC's George Stephanopoulos' exclusive interview with Barack Obama this Sunday on 'This Week with George Stephanopoulos'

Palin Pregnancy Rocks GOP Convention

On Monday Palin rocked the Republican convention when she released this statement:

"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," read a statement released Monday by Sarah Palin, and her husband, Todd.

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

McCain campaign senior adviser Nicolle Wallace said that laying off a candidate's children had been the "last really civil tradition of politics" but that had been violated by the "lewd and outrageously false rumors" being pushed by "Democratic leaning blogs."

Those rumors claimed that Palin's 4-month-old son, Trig, was actually her grandson and Bristol was the true mother. Wallace said the family decided to end those rumors by announcing Bristol's pregnancy, she said.

Wallace also said the pregnancy was not a surprise to McCain or his team that vetted Palin's VP candidacy.

"It was certainly known, and it didn't give Sen. McCain any pause, and I don't think it will give the American people pause that this is a real family dealing with real issues," Wallace said.

Palin Pregnancy Energizes GOP Base

On the convention floor, delegates opposed to abortion rights agreed with the Palin family decision to keep the baby.

"It energizes us, because she's standing on our principles, of every life is precious," said Terris Louis Gregory, a Kansas delegate.

"I'm pleased and appreciative of the fact the girl is not going to kill her baby and instead she is going to marry the boyfriend, and I like that and appreciate that," said Michael Bergsma, a Texas delegate.

Wearing a button with flashing red lights that reads "the LIFE of the party, Republican National Convention 2008" Donna Crocker, 69, a Texas delegate, said it's good Palin came out early with the revelation.

"I think the fact that Palin's out in front with it is really a very good thing. My prayers are with the family," Crocker said. "The fact that her daughter's keeping it and marrying the father is wonderful. It's a human life and she is respecting that."

Ironically, perhaps, one of the strongest statement came from Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

"You know my mother had me when she was 18, and how a family deals with issues and, you know, teenage children, that shouldn't be the topic of our politics, and I hope that anybody who is supporting me understands that's off limits," Obama said.

The pregnancy surprise jolted an already radically different convention than the one that had been planned.

Cindy McCain, Laura Bush Addressed Delegates

First lady Laura Bush and Cindy McCain addressed delegates at the end of a truncated perfunctory convention session Monday afternoon.

"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.

First lady Laura Bush, who is far more popular with the American public than her husband is, introduced a video featuring all the Gulf Coast governors except Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who was coordinating relief efforts in his state.

"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.

Cindy McCain was everywhere Monday in Minneapolis, visiting with delegates, and at phone banks the Republicans set up to fundraise for the Red Cross, and at a care package assembly center.

The chairman of the party asked delegates to send text message donations.

McCain's Helping Hand

At the Louisiana delegation, families gushed over the attention from Republican presidential nominee John McCain. The McCain campaign paid for a charter jet to take some Louisiana delegates back home from the convention to help with the evacuation efforts and reunite with family.

"He's our hero," said Louisiana delegate Vickie Davies of McCain. "He saved the day. He sent the plane and brought them here so we're overjoyed."

Some parties were replaced by prayer breakfasts, such as one hosted by the Florida delegation Monday.

"We canceled several of our parties. We're taking those proceeds and donating them to the American Red Cross," said Jim Greer, chairman of the Florida Republican Party.

Republicans Seek to Put Katrina Mistakes in Rear-View Mirror

Ever mindful of the Bush administration's bungling of Katrina and its aftermath, Republicans see an opportunity to contrast McCain's handling of Gustav with Bush's handing of Katrina.

But not everyone stopped partying.

The NRA, Lockheed Martin, the American Trucking Association and a Republican lobbying firm called the LeMunyon Group hosted a party at Gluek's Restaurant & Bar in Minneapolis for about 200 people Sunday night that went on into the wee hours of Monday morning as planned.

Another group that did not curtail its efforts because of the storm was the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, which held a large anti-Iraq war protest at the Minnesota State Capitol Building. Following the rally, protesters marched to the convention hall. Several people were arrested.

Political analysts argue the convention could turn to politics as usual unless Palin has any more revelations in store for the national media and the public.

"I think the problem is is how this information came out," said Matthew Dowd, a former Republican strategist and ABC News contributor. "If it's true that they [McCain campaign] fully vetted her and they had all this information and knew all this kind of stuff, then it should have been given to the press so that the press didn't find it out piecemeal."

"I think the problem we have here is that the information as we get it, and being from Alaska, we don't know what else is out there," Dowd said.

ABC News' Ursula Fahy and Julia Bain contributed to this report.