GOP speakers fire up convention crowd

September 3, 2008 10:13:50 AM PDT
Republican fired up their convention Tuesday night with speeches praising presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, but the party faithful and a curious nation were waiting to hear vice presidential nominee, Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin, take the podium tonight. 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/St.Paul at 9pm on ABC13

ABC News has confirmed that Palin will address the RNC tonight at around 9pm

Joe Trippi, a Democratic strategist who worked on the presidential bids of former Gov. Howard Dean and former Sen. John Edwards, said interest is building for Palin's acceptance speech.

"All this controversy's going to create a huge audience for her speech whether she walks out there and blows it or hits it out of the park," Trippi told ABCNews.com while walking around the Republican convention hall.

"With every question, with every controversy the audience gets bigger so that when she walks out there -- it could be one of the most dramatic moments of either convention," Trippi said.

Speechwriter and McCain book co-author Mark Salter seemed confident that she would exceed expectations.

"She's going to impress all of America the way she impressed all of us," Salter said.

President Touts McCain: 'Ready to Lead'

Attempting to seize back control of the Republican message, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said Tuesday was dedicated to a biographical sketch of Republican presidential nominee John McCain, and focused on his service to the nation as a fighter pilot, a prisoner of war, and a longtime U.S. senator, though McCain did not appear at the convention in person.

"We're going to highlight the theme of service and putting the country first," Davis told ABCNews.com as he walked through the Xcel Center Tuesday.

The convention program was brought to a standstill when former President George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush walked in to the convention hall to take their seats.

The crowd jumped to its feet, cheering and applauding as the Bushes waved and shook hands with well-wishers.

The speaker at the podium, Minnesota fire department captain Shanna Hanson could only stand and applaud the former first couple herself.

Instead of running away from the Bush administration, the convention featured them to the delight of Republican delegates, many of whom represent the conservative base of the party.

Former Bush strategist Karl Rove waved to the crowd from the Fox News booth inside the convention hall night and got a huge cheer. Delegates on the floor waved signs that read "country first" and "service" -- highlighting Tuesday night's theme.

President George W. Bush also addressed the Republican faithful.

The president appeared via satellite for an eight-minute speech from the White House Cross Hall.

Speaking via satellite after Hurricane Gustav wrecked havoc with the first day of Republican gathering, Bush referenced the storm saying, "We are thankful that the damage in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast was less than many had feared," while lauding the efforts of GOP governors in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

Bush touted McCain, his 2000 Republican nomination rival, and Palin, saying, "John McCain's life has prepared him to make those choices. He is ready to lead this nation," Bush said.

Highlighting the Sept. 11th terror attacks, Bush said, "We live in a dangerous world. And we need a president who understands the lessons of September 11, 2001: that to protect America, we must stay on the offense, stop attacks before they happen, and not wait to be hit again. The man we need is John McCain."

Of the Alaska governor, Bush said, "I am optimistic about something else: When the debates have ended, and all the ads have run, and it is time to vote, Americans will look closely at the judgment, the experience, and the policies of the candidates -- and they will cast their ballots for the McCain-Palin ticket."

The Obama campaign fired back Tuesday arguing Bush has "passed the torch" to McCain.

"Tonight, George Bush enthusiastically passed the torch to the man who's earned it by voting with him 90 percent of the time, and who will continue this president's legacy for the next four years -- his disastrous economic policies, his foreign policy that hasn't made us safer, and his misguided war in Iraq that's costing us $10 billion a month. The man George Bush needs may be John McCain, but the change America needs is Barack Obama," said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe.

Thompson Defends Palin as VP Pick

Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, the "Law and Order" star who abandoned his own presidential bid, went after Barack Obama on abortion.

"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 said.

Thompson also defended Palin.

"What a breath of fresh air Sarah Palin is!" he said to to wild applause from the crowd.

"Let's be clear: the selection of Governor Palin has the other side and their friends in the media in a state of panic," Thompson said, "She is a courageous, successful reformer, who is not afraid to take on the establishment."

Thompson said he believes McCain and Palin will "take the federal bureaucracy by the scruff of the neck and give it a good shaking."

Thompson emphasized McCain's military service in Vietnam, and argued his character and judgment were defined by his experience as a prisoner of war.

"John McCain cannot raise his arms above his shoulders. He cannot salute the flag of the country for which he sacrificed so much. Tonight, as we begin this convention week, yes, we stand with him. And we salute him. We salute his character and his courage," Thompson said.

The keynote address by Rudy Giuliani, another vanquished McCain rival, was originally scheduled for Tuesday but has been pushed back to Wednesday night.

Lieberman Touts 'Maverick' McCain

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an Independent and one-time Democratic vice presidential candidate talked about McCain's "maverick" status in the Republican party, how he has reached across the aisle to work with Democrats in the U.S. Senate. "What, after all, is a Democrat like me doing at a Republican convention like this?" Lieberman said. "The answer is simple. I'm here to support John McCain because country matters more than party. I'm here tonight because John McCain is the best choice to bring our country together and lead our country forward. I'm here because John McCain's whole life testifies to a great truth: being a Democrat or a Republican is important. But it is not more important than being an American." "What you can expect from John McCain as President is precisely what he has done this week: which is to put country first," Lieberman said. "That is the code by which he has lived his entire life, and that is the code he will carry with him into the White House. I have personally seen John over and over again bring people together from both parties to tackle our toughest problems we face." In a moving tribute to McCain's military history, Lieutenant Colonel Orson Swindel, a fellow prisoner of who served with McCain, acknowledged 23 fellow prisoners of war who were in the convention hall. At one point, Cindy McCain's eye welled up with tears as Wes Gullett, a friend of the McCain's, led his adopted daughter Nicki on stage and told the crowd how Cindy McCain rescued his daughter and McCain daughter Bridget from Mother Theresa's orphanage in Bangladesh. "Cindy McCain saved those babies 17 years ago and those girls have grown up to be beautiful young women," Gullett said. "Nikki, we're proud you're our American girl," Gullett said to his daughter in front of the crowd. "And we're proud of Cindy McCain who brought you and Bridget home to this great country. I think America will be an even better place with Cindy, and her husband, John, in the White House."

Palin: 'Homerun' VP Pick?

Yet it was Palin who dominated headlines Tuesday.

The McCain campaign insist there have been no surprises and that Palin completed a 70-page questionnaire and was interviewed "for hours" by McCain lawyers last month.

In an interview with ABCNews.com, McCain surrogate South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham defended McCain's choice of Palin as his vice presidential nominee.

"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 of Palin's daughter's pregnancy. "None of us want 17-year-old pregnancies but how you handle it is the important thing."

Of the media focus now on Palin's personal life, Graham said, "This reinforces she has a loving family and handles adversity well."

Asked whether she was the right VP pick for the Republicans in light of the disclosures this week, Graham said, "We're trying to change things in Washington. If she can do for Washington what she did for Alaska -- homerun pick."

The White House on Tuesday deflected questions about the Palin disclosure.

"President Bush, having talked to him just quickly about it [Monday], believes that this is a private family matter, and that 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. And the president I don't think will have any other comment on it," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Tuesday.

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 over 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.

Palin VP Pick Raises Hope, Questions for Republicans

"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.

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

Interest is high in Palin.

US Weekly, a popular entertainment magazine, put on their cover a picture of Palin holding her fifth child, 4-month-old Trig, on their cover with a headline that screams "BABIES, LIES & SCANDAL."

Palin Pregnancy Rocks GOP Convention

On the floor of the Republican convention, delegates opposed to abortion rights voiced agreement 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. We

aring 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."

Thus far, Democrats have treaded carefully with the news, not wanting to be seen to be making political hay out of Palin's family drama.

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has forcefully said Palin's family is off limits .

"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 Monday.

However a McCain adviser argued Tuesday that Democrats are belittling Palin's experience.

"I am appalled by the Obama campaign's attempts to belittle Governor Sarah Palin's experience," said RNC Victory 2008 Chair and senior McCain adviser Carly Fiorina today in a statement.

"The facts are that Sarah Palin has made more executive decisions as a Mayor and Governor than Barack Obama has made in his life. Because of Hillary Clinton's historic run for the Presidency and the treatment she received, American women are more highly tuned than ever to recognize and decry sexism in all its forms. They will not tolerate sexist treatment of Governor Palin."

Political analysts argue the Republicans won't have a problem unless Palin has any more revelations in store.

"If she was fully vetted and they are having to deal with all the stuff at this convention, then somebody could be accused of making a strategic error in a time when he needs to own the communication and if she wasn't vetted, then there is a bigger problem," former Republican strategist and ABC News contributor Matthew Dowd said Tuesday on World News.

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