GOP Convention Turns to Appeal for Hurricane Aid

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Republicans hurried to turn the opening day of their national convention into a fundraising drive for hurricane victims, with presidential candidate John McCain's wife and first lady Laura Bush appealing for Gulf Coast help. McCain visited a disaster relief center in Ohio.

Party officials in St. Paul kept a watchful eye on still-dangerous Hurricane Gustav Monday to decide next steps for their shortened convention. They said they still expected McCain to address the convention at Thursday night's finale.

Meanwhile, GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her husband, Todd, said in a statement that their 17-year-old unmarried
daughter was five months pregnant. The campaign said the announcement was made to rebut Internet rumors that Palin's youngest son, born in April, was actually her daughter's.

McCain's wife, Cindy, and Mrs. Bush were expected to address the
abbreviated convention session on relief efforts.

Mrs. Bush told Texas delegates she and Cindy McCain would talk about "what people around the country, as well as the people here
- the delegates here - can do to help specific states."

President Bush, whose administration was widely accused of a botched handling of the Katrina disaster three years ago, traveled to Texas rather than to St. Paul, where he had been scheduled to speak on the opening night of the Republican National Convention. Bush planned visits to Austin and San Antonio to visit staging grounds for hurricane response efforts. There was no word on whether he would address the convention at some point by satellite.

Democrats also swung their attention to the hurricane.

Presidential nominee Barack Obama altered his campaign schedule to return to his Chicago headquarters to monitor the storm's progress. His 16 campaign offices in North Carolina solicited nonperishable goods for Gustav's victims. Other state campaign organizations may do the same, Obama aides said.

Obama has said he may visit storm-damaged areas once things have
"settled down."

Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden canceled plans to march in a Labor Day parade in Pittsburgh to monitor storm developments. "Our focus right now should be on what's happening
in the Gulf," he said.

The Republican convention remained in limbo on its first day. At McCain's behest, party leaders called off the usual festivities and planned only a truncated meeting in the afternoon.

Gustav weakened somewhat to a Category 2 storm as it neared landfall along the mostly evacuated Louisiana coast. The National Hurricane Center said the storm, with 110-mph winds, should hit somewhere southwest of New Orleans by midday.

In Waterville, Ohio, McCain visited a disaster relief center, and helped pack cleaning supplies and other items into plastic buckets that will be sent to the Gulf Coast area.

Linda Green, who runs the center, thanked McCain for directing Republicans to avoid "hoopla" at the convention and respecting
the needs of storm victims instead.

"Each one should use whatever gift he or she has received to serve others faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms," the Arizona senator said, reading from Green's business card.

"And as the hurricane strikes Louisiana as we speak, all Americans I know will be motivated by those words of serving others and using whatever gifts we have to help our fellow Americans," McCain told reporters.

McCain, who visited Mississippi on Sunday, said that while there is now better coordination among federal, state and local authorities, there are still problems.

"There's still, I think, not as much communications equipment as we want. There's still not enough search-and-rescue capabilities, although they're trying to fix that. It's not perfect, but I think that it's dramatically different than it was in response to Katrina," McCain said in an interview broadcast on NBC's "Today" show. The interview was taped on Sunday.

Cindy McCain and Palin arrived in the convention city Sunday night.

A statement on the pregnancy of the vice presidential candidate's daughter was released by the campaign on Monday. It said that Bristol Palin will keep her baby and marry the child's father. The baby is due in late December.

"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," Sarah and Todd Palin said in the brief statement.

Party officials were attempting to focus convention efforts, at least in part, toward raising funds for relief efforts.

The Ohio delegation held a riverboat cruise on the Mississippi Sunday night as planned, but turned the event into a relief fundraiser. Kevin DeWine, deputy GOP chairman for Ohio, said some $20,000 was raised.

Concerned about negative images of partying delegates while Gulf Coast residents suffer, the Republican National Committee and the McCain campaign were trying to police activities on the convention sidelines.

That included a warning to Louisiana delegates against traditional alcohol-laced "hurricane parties" - following reports of a late-night celebration on Sunday ahead of the storm's landfall on Monday.

The GOP also is overseeing an effort by the American Red Cross and the Minneapolis-based Target department store chain to assemble comfort packs for Gulf Coast residents at the Minneapolis convention center on Monday.

GOP Chairman Robert "Mike" Duncan said on Sunday that certain legal requirements had to be met despite the decision to truncate the convention in order to legally place McCain and Palin's names in nomination.

One piece of business slated for Monday was of special interest to delegations from Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina: a rule to cement their leadoff status for the 2012 campaign. It declares that no state can hold its primary or caucus before the first Tuesday in March, except for Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

They, in turn, cannot hold their votes before the first Tuesday in February, a stark contrast to this year, when Iowa held its caucuses on Jan. 3, and New Hampshire and South Carolina held their primaries on Jan. 8 and Jan. 19, respectively.

"It pushes back the calendar and it slows it down, and that's a big gift for us," said Tom Rath, a New Hampshire delegate and member of the Credentials Committee.

Protesters planned to go forward with a peace march that had been expected to draw 50,000 people to the state capital.

"Our voices will be front and center, and it will be the main news that is happening," said Jess Sundin, spokeswoman for the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)