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  • Bush praises McCain

    ST. PAUL, Minn. — President Bush, relegated to a minor role at the Republican National Convention, praised John McCain Tuesday night as "ready to lead this nation," a courageous candidate who supported the war in Iraq despite risks to his campaign for the White House.

    As Bush addressed the convention from the White House — his speech was to last less than eight minutes — Republicans in St. Paul defended McCain's vice-presidential running mate, Sarah Palin. The Alaska governor is "from a small town, with small-town values, but that's not good enough for those folks who are attacking her and her family," former Sen. Fred Thompson said in convention remarks released in advance.

    He said McCain's decision to place her on the ticket "has the other side and their friends in the media in a state of panic."


    In the days since her selection, Palin has disclosed that her 17-year-old unmarried daughter is pregnant, and that a lawyer has been retained to represent her in an unfolding investigation in Alaska into the dismissal of a state employee.

    "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 added.


    Bush's remarks, also as prepared for delivery Tuesday night, reprised national security themes that propelled him to re-election in 2004.

    "We live in a dangerous world," he said, "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."

    Bush's brief cameo was highly unusual for a two-term president addressing his own party's convention as he prepared to leave office. His aides suggested the sequence of events flowed naturally from his decision to travel to Louisiana on Wednesday to see the damage caused by Hurricane Gustav.

    But his approval ratings are in the 30 percent range, and with polls making it clear the nation is ready for a change, the McCain campaign indicated there was no need for him to travel to the convention city.
    Republicans swung their convention back on a political track today after a pause for Hurricane Gustav, giving Bush a brief prime-time speaking slot to promote John McCain's candidacy for the White House. Former Democrat Joe Lieberman also got a prominent role.

    Revelations about Palin aised questions about whether her background was fully explored before she was picked.

    McCain, touring a Philadelphia fire house, said today, "The vetting process was completely thorough and I'm grateful for the results." His advisers say he had known about the governor's daughter's pregnancy.

    The White House said it should not be a political issue. "I think that President Bush ... believes this is a private family matter," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said today. "The family obviously loves their daughter very much, and that this baby, when it is born, will have the full love and support of a very loving family."

    There was a flurry of last-minute changes as Republicans tried to patch together a new schedule for the three remaining days of their convention. Monday's opening session was abbreviated and stripped of sharp political rhetoric as the nation kept its focus on Gustav, once seen as a major threat to the Gulf Coast. The hurricane turned out to be less devastating than feared, allowing the GOP to lift the McCain-imposed ban on partisanship.

    Bush had been in line to speak to the convention in person Monday night but instead went to Texas to be with disaster workers as Gustav threatened the Gulf. Some Republicans had breathed a sigh of relief to have the unpopular president out of the way and off the television screens. But Bush still was guaranteed a warm welcome from fellow Republicans in the convention hall.

    The president's brief appearance appeared to be the middle ground between giving Bush a major convention assignment and shutting him out entirely.

    Perino said Bush would "throw his enthusiastic support behind John McCain for president."

    Initially, the White House was so concerned about intruding on McCain's show that aides would neither confirm nor even discuss the ongoing planning for what was widely known to be happening: that Bush would speak tonight. Bush aides were hypersensitive about any move that might offend McCain or be seen as trumping his show — a byproduct of McCain's delicate effort to distance himself from the president.

    Thompson, a former senator from Tennessee, was one of McCain's rivals for the Republican nomination. Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, was the Democrats' vice presidential candidate in 2000 and now is a McCain supporter. Republicans say the two will talk about McCain's life and their friendship with him. Former McCain rival Mitt Romney also was expected to be squeezed in. He was on the convention stage this morning testing out the setup.

    Laura Bush dropped in on a breakfast of the Michigan delegation and said that battleground state "can really be in play this time. ... I think we have a really good chance of carrying Michigan."

    The revamped schedule suggested that convention planners were easing back into partisan politics with an appeal to independent-minded voters. Thompson is known by most voters for his portrayal of a gruff district attorney on NBC's Law & Order.

    It was unclear whether Thompson had replaced former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani as the convention keynoter and, if so, why. Convention planners said Giuliani would address the gathering in prime-time Wednesday or Thursday, though they did not know whether he would remain the keynote speaker as planned.

    Lieberman, who left the Democratic Party after losing a Senate primary, has angered many Democrats by criticizing their nominee, Barack Obama.

    "I'm not going to spend any time tonight attacking Sen. Obama," Lieberman told CNN, but he added that he would explain "why I am an independent Democrat voting for Sen. McCain."

    The convention seeks to reintroduce Americans to McCain and provide a high-profile introduction for Palin. The governor of Alaska for nearly two years, she is little-known outside of her state.

    So far, Palin has not conducted a formal news conference or taken questions from reporters, and no such sessions were scheduled today. Her only statement Monday disclosed that her daughter Bristol was pregnant and planned to marry the baby's father.

    The man who led McCain's search for a vice-presidential nominee said he thought all the possible red flags unearthed during the background check had now been made public.

    Under the weight of Gustav, speeches at the convention on Monday were light on red-meat rhetoric and heavy with appeals for donations to victims of the Gulf Coast storm, which was the main message in brief remarks from Laura Bush and her would-be successor, Cindy McCain.

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

    Added the first lady, "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."

    Obama also appealed to his supporters, asking them in a mass e-mail and text message to donate to the Red Cross. His schedule for the rest of the week was up in the air as he returned to Chicago headquarters to monitor the storm's aftermath.

    Outside the Xcel Energy Center where the convention officially began, police contended with thousands of protesters, some of whom attacked a group of Connecticut delegates.

    Others smashed cars, punctured tires and threw bottles, while many marched peacefully in a gathering that was initially conceived as an anti-war demonstration. Police arrested a few protesters for lighting a trash container on fire and pushing it into a police car.
    ‘Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.’
    Oscar Wilde

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