St, Paul, Minn. Republican convention delegates rallied Monday around presumptive vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin as they made the first day of their gathering a subdued show of sympathy for Hurricane Gustav's victims.
First lady Laura Bush and Cindy McCain, the wife of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, addressed the convention, staying away from partisan politics.
"As we gather in Minnesota, a great storm afflicts our country," Cindy McCain said. "And when one of us is threatened, we are all threatened. As Americans, we all rise to the challenge."
Party Chairman Mike Duncan opened the session by asking delegates to make donations to the Red Cross by hitting a text message code. Web sites for state relief funds ringed the hall.
Outside the convention hall, an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 antiwar protesters marched down St. Paul's streets, sometimes smashing windows, blocking roads and tossing bottles. Police used pepper spray to subdue them.
Inside the Xcel Energy Center, the site of the Republican gathering, delegates were eager to promote political unity. Delegates had scarcely settled into their seats when it was disclosed a lawyer had been hired to represent the Alaska governor in an investigation of her firing of the state's public safety commissioner. The other disclosure was personal, not political - the pregnancy of her 17-year-old unmarried daughter.
McCain's staff said he'd known about the pregnancy before he announced Palin as his choice for vice president, and had judged it irrelevant.
Few were disturbed at the idea that John McCain may not have thoroughly checked Palin's background.
"If McCain had been inclined to pick Palin and then changed his mind because of this, I'd have thought less of him," said Gary Bauer, the chairman of the Campaign for Working Families, which promotes family values.
President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney had been scheduled to address the convention Monday night, but the program was canceled Sunday because of Gustav.
The last-minute additions of Laura Bush and Cindy McCain, however, were a signal Monday that the convention could be inching back to promoting the Republican ticket.
McCain campaign manager Rick Davis refused to discuss his boss' process for vetting Palin, but was more upbeat about plans for getting the convention back on track today.
McCain is scheduled to make his acceptance speech Thursday, and Davis said "there's no contingency planning at this point that would have him outside the city" to make that address.
Keynote speaker Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, is scheduled to appear today, resuming the convention's regular business.