ST PAUL, MINNESOTA // If Republicans were reminded of one thing about politics this week, it was this: even the best-laid plans go awry. First came Hurricane Gustav stealing the media spotlight, forcing a rash of cancellations and harking back to the dreadful federal response to Hurricane Katrina almost exactly three years ago. Then came the news that broke just hours before the convention was brought into session: the teenage daughter of Sarah Palin, the little-known governor of Alaska and the party's vice presidential nominee-in-waiting, is pregnant. In a statement, Mrs Palin and her husband, Todd, said that 17-year-old Bristol was planning to have the baby and marry the father. "It would strain credibility to think that their plan was to announce it today," Matthew Dowd, a top strategist for the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2000 and 2004 and an ABC News analyst, said wryly on Monday. But the convention went on - sort of - even as reporters swarmed around John McCain's aides seeking to know when he found out about the pregnancy. Yesterday, Republicans moved to get the gathering back on its original track, restoring major parts of the programme, albeit in consolidated form. Rick Davis, Mr McCain's campaign manager, said yesterday's programme would focus largely on introducing the Arizona senator to the nation through "stories of service and sacrifice", a clear attempt to portray him as a man of honourable character whose personal life and political career exemplify the convention's theme of "Country First". Among the scheduled speakers last night were Orson Swindle, a decorated former US marine and cellmate of Mr McCain when the two were held as prisoners of war in Vietnam, and Tommy Espinoza, the head of a prominent Hispanic organisation in Arizona, the godfather of Mr McCain's youngest son Jimmy - and a Democrat. George W Bush, who cancelled his Monday trip to St Paul to address the convention on account of the storm, was expected to make brief remarks via satellite last night from the White House. The first lady, Laura Bush was to speak after the president. But what the McCain campaign was really playing up - even as it asked the television networks for expanded coverage because of time lost due to the hurricane - were the remarks of two of Mr McCain's Senate colleagues. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, a former rival for the presidential nomination this year, was to deliver a speech called "The Courage and Service of John McCain". The night was to close with Joe Lieberman, an independent Connecticut senator and the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee, and an idea the campaign hopes will stick in the minds of Americans: John McCain is not your average Republican. The title of Mr Lieberman's speech was "The Original Maverick". Today's proceedings are expected to include, as originally planned, the vice presidential acceptance speech by Mrs Palin. Mr Davis called that speech a chance "to bring her into focus" for Americans, many of whom had never heard of her before Friday, and to "see beyond some of the media fog that has existed the last 48 hours". Only time will tell what the political fallout of Gustav - and the change in convention plans it forced - will be. In one way, the disruption on the first day played right into what was to have been that day's subtheme of "service", as convention events were turned into charitable ones to raise funds for hurricane relief. "Instead of talking about it, we did it," said Mr Davis, who added that convention sponsors and campaign donors had already raised millions. Mr Dowd, the former Bush strategist who has also worked for Democrats, said the disruption could turn out to be a boon in another way, in that it forced the president to cancel his trip here - and, likely, a change in the focus of his rescheduled remarks. Thousands of protesters, part of a group calling itself the "Republican National Committee Welcoming Committee", spent two years planning major anti-war protests for the day the president was to arrive. And while those protests went ahead, they got little national coverage because of Hurricane Gustav, and the storm over Mrs Palin's pregnant teenage daughter. There were open concerns that an appearance by Mr Bush would give more ammunition to the Obama-Biden campaign, which has been trying to portray Mr McCain as "McBush" as furiously as Mr McCain has been trying to portray himself as independent. In any case, Jay Pierce, 68, a security officer from Garland, Texas, and an alternate delegate wearing the delegation's trademark cowboy hat, was ready to get on with the programme. "That is just simply life," he said of the way the hurricane co-opted the convention's opening day. "You deal with what you have to deal with and move on." @Email:email@example.com
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