ST PAUL // George W Bush has saluted Republican John McCain as the man to replace him, at a convention featuring assaults on Democrat Barack Obama. Mr Bush, in a rarity for recent incumbent presidents, did not attend the party's St Paul convention to nominate Mr McCain for president, instead speaking briefly from the White House by satellite. The stated reason for Mr Bush's absence was his need to manage the Hurricane Gustav emergency, but it could in the end have helped Mr McCain to distance himself from the unpopular president, at a time when Democrats seek to join them at the hip politically.
Mr Bush said progress in bringing stability to Iraq through a US-troop build-up was the direct result of the Arizona senator's firmness in insisting that it take place in the face of Democratic opposition and the war's unpopularity. "The man we need is John McCain," Mr Bush said. "He's not afraid to tell you when he disagrees. Believe me, I know," said Mr Bush, who has had an uneasy relationship with the 72-year-old presidential candidate over the years and defeated him in the 2000 race for the Republican nomination.
The Obama campaign fired back. "The man George Bush needs may be John McCain, but the change America needs is Barack Obama," said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe. On the first night of convention speeches after a delay prompted by the hurricane, police used pepper spray and tear gas to drive protesters away from the downtown Xcel Energy Center where the convention was being held. The confrontation followed a peaceful march on behalf of poor people by more than 1,000 demonstrators.
Republicans will nominate Mr McCain and vice presidential running mate, Mrs Palin, 44, as their candidates this week to face Mr Obama and his running mate, Delaware senator Joe Biden, in the Nov 4 election. Mr Obama drew heavy fire from convention speakers who want to use the week to try to define the Democrat on their own terms after Mr Obama, a first-term US Illinois senator, got a boost in public opinion polls from his convention last week in Denver.
The Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman, a close ally of Mr McCain's, who calls himself an independent Democrat, described Mr Obama, 47, as a "gifted and eloquent young man", but said "eloquence is no substitute for a record, not in these tough times". "I'm here to support John McCain because country matters more than party," said Mr Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000. Former Tennessee Republican senator Fred Thompson, in the most fiery speech of the day, dismissed Mr Obama as "the most liberal, most inexperienced nominee to ever run for president".
Mr Thompson said Mr McCain's foreign policy expertise was far more expansive than Mr Obama's, citing Democratic nominee's speech before 200,000 cheering Germans in Berlin in July. "The respect he (McCain) is given around the world is not because of a teleprompter speech designed to appeal to American critics abroad, but because of decades of clearly demonstrated character and statesmanship," Mr Thompson said.
Mrs Palin's disclosure that her unmarried 17-year-old daughter is pregnant and the news that she had hired a private lawyer in an ethics probe in Alaska have triggered a media firestorm. Some have questioned McCain's judgment in picking Mrs Palin and how thoroughly the relatively unknown first-term governor's background was examined before her selection last week. Mr Thompson blasted "Washington pundits and media big shots" who had been critical of Palin.
"Let's be clear ... the selection of governor Palin has the other side and their friends in the media in a state of panic. She is a courageous, successful reformer who is not afraid to take on the establishment," he said. Comparing Mrs Palin to Mr Obama without mentioning the Democrat's name, Mr Thompson said she "has actually governed rather than just talked a good game on the Sunday talk shows and hit the Washington cocktail circuit".
Republicans like Mrs Palin's anti-abortion and pro-gun stances and her history of government reform in Alaska in her two years as governor. Mr McCain's aides kept Mrs Palin closeted throughout the day as she prepared for a speech to the convention on today. Mr McCain, who will arrive in the St Paul area on today, predicted a warm welcome for Mrs Palin when she addresses the convention tonight.
"America's excited and they're going to be even more excited once they see her," Mr McCain said. "I'm very, very proud of the impression that she's made on all of America and I'm looking forward to serving with her." In Philadelphia, he defended his search. "My vetting process was completely thorough and I'm grateful for the results," he said. * Reuters