GOP convention opens with appeal for Gustav aid

(AP) - Republicans, determined to propel JohnMcCain to the White House, opened their storm-shortened nationalconvention on Monday amid distractions involving running mate SarahPalin. Police made

ST. PAUL, Minn. - (AP) - Republicans, determined to propel JohnMcCain to the White House, opened their storm-shortened nationalconvention on Monday amid distractions involving running mate SarahPalin. Police made more than 50 arrests in the surrounding streetsas anti-war protests turned violent.

Delegates had scarcely settled into their seats when it wasdisclosed a lawyer had been hired to represent the Alaska governorin an investigation of her firing of the state's public safetycommissioner. The other disclosure was personal, not political -the pregnancy of her 17-year-old unmarried daughter.

The convention's opening session was abbreviated as HurricaneGustav hit the Gulf Coast, sparing New Orleans the type of damageinflicted by Hurricane Katrina almost exactly three years ago.

President Bush skipped his planned speech to go to disaster andrelief centers, determined to avoid a repeat of the mismanagementof Katrina.

McCain was in Waterville, Ohio, where he helped pack supplies tobe sent to the Gulf.

Both men's wives sparked cheers when they appeared before thedelegates, shunning politics to urge contributions to help stormvictims.

Virtually the only political business of the convention's2½-hour session was approval of a platform that sidestepped theIraq War, one of the key issues in the campaign between McCain andDemocrat Barack Obama.

"The waging of war - and the achieving of peace - should neverbe micromanaged in a party platform. ... In dealing with presentconflicts or future crises, our next president must preserve alloptions," it said.

Outside the Xcel Center was a reminder of the passions the warstirs. Protesters smashed windows, punctured car tires and threwbottles, and there were reports that delegates from Connecticutwere attacked as they stepped off their bus to attend the day'sconvention session.

Police used pepper spray to disperse demonstrators, and reportedmaking at least 56 arrests.

The convention was less than 15 minutes old when Mike Duncan,chairman of the Republican National Committee, asked delegates touse their cell phones to text a five-digit code that would make adonation to the Red Cross for victims of the hurricane.

It was a theme that first lady Laura Bush and Cindy McCainpicked up more than an hour later.

"This is a time when we take off our Republican hats and put onour American hats," McCain said.

Added the first lady: "Our first priority for today and in thecoming days is to ensure the safety and well-being of those livingin the Gulf Coast region."

Behind the two women was a giant screen showing the names ofstate-approved charities in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana,Mississippi and Texas.

There was money news of a more conventional type, when JohnMcCain's aides announced he had raised at least $47 million lastmonth for the fall campaign against Democratic rival Barack Obama.It was the largest monthly amount to date for the GOP candidate.

While the opening day convention program was shorn of politicalrhetoric, aides said McCain was likely to deliver his nominationacceptance speech as scheduled on Thursday.

The program for Tuesday was in flux, officials said, althoughthey said it was likely there would be more overt politicalspeechmaking than on the opening day of the convention.

Some Republicans were eager for a more traditional conventionweek.

"When the storm passes and we can see that there are enoughresources and that lives are not in danger any longer and help ison its way or in place, then that'll be the green light for us toenjoy the celebration we're all here for," said Kelly Burt, adelegate from California.

But what there was revolved around Palin, little know nationallyuntil McCain named her his running mate last Friday.

An attorney has been hired to represent Palin in thelegislature's investigation into the dismissal of public safetycommissioner Walt Monegan, who was dismissed after he refused tofire a state trooper who had divorced the governor's sister.

"We have been hired to represent the Governor and theGovernor's Office" in the investigation, wrote Anchorage attorneyThomas V. Van Flein.

"We fully welcome a fair inquiry into these allegations. ...Please know that we intend to cooperate with this investigation,"the lawyer said.

As for Palin's daughter, McCain's campaign aides said Monday'sstatement was issued to rebut Internet rumors that the governor'sfour-month-old baby was, in fact, daughter Bristol's child.

"Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realizevery quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why theywill have the love and support of our entire family," Sarah andTodd Palin said in the brief statement.

The father was identified in the statement as Levi, but thecampaign said it was not disclosing his full name or age or how heand Bristol know each other, citing privacy.

Aides said Palin had informed McCain about her daughter'spregnancy before she was picked to be his running mate. At severalpoints during the discussions, McCain's team warned the governorthat the scrutiny of her private life would be intense and thatthere was nothing she could do to prepare for it.

"Senator McCain's view is this is a private family matter. Asparents, (the Palins) love their daughter unconditionally and aregoing to support their daughter," said McCain spokesman SteveSchmidt.

"Life happens," he added.

Prominent religious conservatives, many of them long cool toMcCain's candidacy, issued statements of support.

James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, commended thePalins for "for not just talking about their pro-life andpro-family values, but living them out even in the midst of tryingcircumstances.?

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