Distractions Mark GOP Convention's First Day Republicans opened their storm-shortened national convention Monday amid distractions involving running mate Sarah Palin. It was disclosed that a lawyer was hired to represent the Alaska governor in a firing investigation, and that her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant.
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Distractions Mark GOP Convention's First Day

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Distractions Mark GOP Convention's First Day

Distractions Mark GOP Convention's First Day

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Well, Gustav did hit the Republican National Convention hard on its first day. While New Orleans was mostly spared, in St. Paul, Republicans were forced to cancel big speeches that would have provided valuable primetime exposure for the party. Instead, they did some fundraising for hurricane victims and some party business.

Some drama - or such drama, as there was, took place elsewhere: in a short statement issued by vice presidential pick Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and on the streets outside the convention. NPR's David Welna has this report.

DAVID WELNA: As GOP delegates converged yesterday at St. Paul's Excel Energy Center, thousands of protestors marched through the streets of Minnesota's state capital.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) (unintelligible)

WELNA: Some protestors clashed with a big contingent of police in riot gear who used pepper spray and arrested more than 50 people. Mike Stevens(ph) of Bemidji was one of those who marched.

Mr. MIKE STEVENS (Protestor): I'm here against the war.

WELNA: Do you think this is going to have any effect on that?

Mr. STEVENS: I hope so.

Mr. MIKE DUNCAN (Chairman, Republican National Party): Welcome to the 39th Quadrennial Republican National Convention.

(Soundbite of applause)

WELNA: As the scaled back Republican convention got underway, national party Chairman Mike Duncan reminded delegates of why the opening night program had been dropped.

Mr. DUNCAN: As we gather in Minnesota, a great storm afflicts our country. And when one of us is threatened, we're all threatened. As Americans, we rise to the challenge. We unite, we respond, and we take care of our own.

WELNA: Duncan urged all those present and any television viewers as well to call in donations to charities helping hurricane victims. That generated polite applause, but little excitement. Things got a lot more lively, though, when one of the most popular people in the Republican Party took the stage.

Announcer: Please welcome the First Lady of the United States of America, Mrs. Laura Bush.

(Soundbite of applause, cheering)

WELNA: The First Lady noticed this was, in fact, the day when President Bush was supposed to have been here - that is, before he cancelled on Sunday to focus on Hurricane Gustav.

First Lady LAURA BUSH: I want to tell you that, like all of you, George and I were planning to come to enjoy this convention, to have a really good time. And we would have been here tonight speaking…

WELNA: But instead, conventioneers watched a video of four of the Gulf Coast's five Republican governors. In it, Alabama governor Bob Riley lavished praise on President Bush.

Governor BOB RILEY (Republican, Alabama): He and his administration have been in close contact with each office, and his leadership has been excellent. Thank you, Mr. President, for all that you are doing.

WELNA: That did not prompt any applause from the Republican Delegates. Georgia Delegate John Lewis was not surprised.

Mr. JOHN LEWIS (Republican Delegate, Georgia): You know, the general feeling in the population is that they're real discouraged with President Bush. I understand that.

WELNA: The woman who hopes to be the next first lady also got a warm reception. Cindy McCain urged conventioneers to remember those living near the storm-whipped Gulf Coast.

Ms. CINDY McCAIN: 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.

WELNA: There was no convention appearance by McCain's chosen running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, even though his campaign says she's in the Twin Cities. But there was plenty of praise for Palin, some of it from former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Governor, Arkansas): I think she's given a great sense of relief and excitement to the base of the party, but also she's shown that women are going to have a prominent place in the Republican Party. And that's good for all of us.

WELNA: Delegates to the convention were also widely supportive of the latest news about Palin's family, mainly that her 17-year-old unmarried daughter Bristol is five months pregnant and plans to give birth and get married. Palin issued a statement yesterday announcing her daughter's pregnancy. She did so after Internet bloggers circulated reports claiming that it was not Palin, but in fact Palin's daughter Bristol who gave birth in April to a baby boy with Down's Syndrome.

David Welna, NPR News, St. Paul.

MONTAGNE: And for a theory on how Hurricane Gustav could help the Republican ticket, check out David Folkenflik's Media Circus column at our Web site: npr.org.

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