Thompson, Lieberman, Bush speak at GOP convention

GOP highlights McCain's service, McCain defends Palin
September 2, 2008 9:11:29 PM PDT
The Republican National Convention gathered political momentum in St. Paul, Minn., Tuesday night, one day later than planned because of Hurricane Gustav.President George Bush addressed delegates via satellite, saying this nation would be safer with Ariz. Sen. John McCain as president.

The mood was charged Tuesday night with Republicans trying to move past Hurricane Gustav and distractions of the past 24 hours. This was a night for these delegates, who have traveled from coast to coast, to celebrate the Republican Party and McCain. And Senator Joe Lieberman, former senator Fred Thompson and President George Bush all made the case for why McCain should be this country's 44th president.

President Bush, the first primetime speaker of the convention, came on Day 2 instead of opening night because of Gustav

"We are thankful that the damage in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast was less than many had feared," Bush said.

But it was George Bush Sr. who was actually at the convention Tuesday night.

"We live in a dangerous world and we need a president who understands the lessons of September 11th, that to protect America, we must stay on the offense, stop attacks before they happen and not wait to be hit again," President Bush said via satellite.

Former presidential candidate and Tennessee senator Fred Thompson, who went head to head with McCain in the campaign, made a case for his former political rival.

"He has been to Iraq eight times since 2003. He went seeking truth, not publicity," Thompson said.

And Night Two closed with Lieberman, McCain's close friend and one of the front-runners to be his running mate. Just eight years ago, Lieberman was nominated for the job on the Democratic ticket.

"What after all, is a Democrat like me doing at a Republican convention like this? The answer is simple. I'm here to support John McCain because country matters more than party," Lieberman said.

And Lieberman told delegates that the McCain campaign slogan "country first" is why America needs McCain in the White House.

"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."

After cancelling political speeches Monday, the GOP finally got down to business Tuesday.

Day Two of the Republican National Convention was more like Day One was supposed to have felt.

"We're performing well with conservative Democrats, independents, Republicans are out in full force. There is a lot of enthusiasm in this campaign and Joe Lieberman is part of it. We are excited to hear from him," said Tucker Bounds, senior advisor, McCain campaign.

"The Republican president of the U.S. is obviously good for this convention. This is a Republican convention and it's traditional and he'll do it," said James Thompson, (R) former Illinois governor.

Gustav scrapped the president's live convention appearance Monday night, a disappointment for some, but perhaps a problem solver for Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who has wanted to distance himself from an unpopular president..

"it's common at the end of the second term, you're not as popular as you started out. I don't think it will have a negative impact at all. What people get out of the convention is what John McCain says Thursday night," said Jim Edgar, (R) former Illinois governor.

"I think the bottom line is, Democrats have been trying to hang Bush around the neck of McCain unfairly, and in a lot of ways, for him to be on satellite is the best possible way from a strategic standpoint," said Lenny McAllister, Republicans for Black Empowerment.

Outside the Xcel Center, police and protesters clashed.

Once again Tuesday, thousands of people in St. Paul took to the streets in protest and plan to end their march at the Xcel Center.

Police had to use tear gas, smoke canisters and flash bangs to control the crowd. There was no word Tuesday night if there had been any arrests or damage to property in downtown St. Paul.

Two hundred and eighty-six protesters were arrested during Monday's march.

McCain's Veitnam service, POW experience higlighted

The theme of speeches about McCain also focused on his five and a half years as a prisoner of war. It's a part of the man that the McCain camp says gives him better judgment when things get tough.

There were about two dozen of McCain's fellow POWs in the audience Tuesday night. "We have come a long way, and I'm honored to be among you. Would you please stand and be recognized," said Orson Swindle, former POW.

"No man can survive a prisoner of war camp without God's protection," said Tommy Espinoza, Democrats for McCain.

Illinois Republicans watched the tributes to McCain on the first full night of the convention. The story of how McCain refused to be released without his fellow POWs is the centerpiece of the McCain biography and, according to the delegates from Illinois, the clearest proof that he's got the right stuff to be president.

"To me, that's what it's all about. That's why we need a man of courage and strength and experience to be in the White House, and I believe that person is John McCain," said Gabriella Wyatt, (R) Aurora delegate.

McCain was campaigning in Philadelphia as his convention planners said in St. Paul that they intended to cast him -- an Arizona senator and former Vietnam POW -- as a man who has devoted his life to public service. "We are looking forward to showcasing John McCain's lifelong record of putting his country first," said Republican National Committee Chairman Robert M. "Mike" Duncan.

Tuesday's theme was all about service to country and country first. It's also the story about Senator McCain's experience as a prisoner of war and how it's shaped his character.

"When he came to me, he was in a monstrous body cast that came from over his shoulder to his hips. His arm was sticking out like a stick out of a snowman," said Bud Day, Vietnam POW.

The Illinois delegation listened intently Tuesday morning to a graphic description of McCain's condition after he was shot down over north Vietnam in 1967, from his former commander and fellow POW Day, who also remembered the defining moment in McCain's biography when he turned down an offer to go free unless the other POWs were released.

"He very well knew that he could be taking a death sentence by the decision he made. As we look back on that act, roughly 40-some-odd years later, we know it was the right thing to do," Day said.

Another former POW, John Borling of Rockford, said that McCain's decision is what defines him.

"Character, courage, that was the kind of choice that frankly none of us wanted to have when John McCain became famous and much respected for saying, 'No thanks, I'll stay with my fellows,'" said Retired Maj. Gen. Borling.

"I think character is, to me, the number one issue when you're picking a president," Edgar said.

Congressman Mark Kirk was also a Naval pilot who went through a simulation of POW conditions that left him in awe of McCain.

"I have great confidence that a man who has been so tested and knows his heart so well is ready to be our commander in chief, don't you think?," said Rep. Kirk, (R) north suburbs.

McCain defends Palin

Palin was not in the convention hall. She's been out of the public eye since arriving there Sunday and announcing that her daughter, Bristol, is pregnant.

There were new pictures released of Bristol and her high school boyfriend, 18-year-old Levi Johnston. He was on his way to St. Paul to join Palin's family at the convention.

The McCain campaign says the Palins are like any other American family - and "life happens."

And a lot of people still aren't completely familiar with Sarah Palin, including Republican Party co-chair Jo Ann Davidson who misspoke while addressing delegates Tuesday night.

"W]e are holding a convention that will nominate a Republican woman governor, Sarah Pawlenty, our next vice president," Davidson said.

McCain's aides also disputed a claim that vice presidential running mate Sarah Palin had once been a member of a third party -- and accused Democratic rival Barack Obama's camp of spreading false information.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton retorted that, going by the reports he'd seen, "the only person talking about her being in the Alaska Independence Party is the head of the Alaska Independence Party. Their gripe is with those folks."

McCain defended his vice presidential pick Tuesday, saying he properly checked the background of Alaska Gov. Palin. McCain's comments come one day after it was learned Palin's 17-year-old daughter is pregnant.

Both candidates agreed the pregnancy should not be a campaign issue.

But the Republican Party did respond to the revelation by sending a team to Alaska to do a little more checking on Governor Palin.

That announcement was a big surprise to the public, but apparently not to the McCain campaign. The pregnancy has raised questions about whether Palin was vetted enough by the McCain camp. The presidential candidate defended the process and Palin at events in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

"The vetting process was completely thorough and I'm grateful for the result," McCain said. "I just want to repeat again how excited I am to have Sarah Palin, the great governor of Alaska, as my running mate? America's excited and they're going to be even more excited once they see her tomorrow night."

A lot of McCain's fellow Republicans said they feel the same way and rallied around Palin Tuesday.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have to stand by her and we have to defend her. There's going to be a lot of stuff thrown out there," said Frank Donatelli, Republican National Committee.

There was an emotional plea from the deputy director of the Republican National Committee to members of the Illinois delegation not to waver in their support of McCain's running mate as reporters and bloggers followed up on the disclosure that her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant. There were multiple probes of allegations that she abused her power in the firing of an Alaska state official, joined a political party that favored an independent Alaska in the '90s, hired a lobbyist when she was a small-town mayor to secure the federal earmark funds that McCain vehemently opposes and that her husband was arrested on a DUI in 1986.

"I'm not concerned, not at all. This is what I expected to happen. This is hardball politics," said Jim Durkin, McCain's Illinois co-chair.

The McCain campaign says that even though Palin was an unexpected choice, she was thoroughly vetted before the selection.

"Everybody should be fully understanding that she was fully vetted, we are completely aware of her record, she's an incredible addition to the ticket," Bounds said.

As for the pregnancy issue, conservative Republicans like state Senator Dave Severson of Rockford say the GOP base is still on board a hundred percent because she's right on the issues that matter.

"I think she could send a message to a lot of people who talk the talk, she clearly has done the walk. I think people appreciate that," said Severson.

"I think what we're seeing more importantly is the kind of woman she is as she faces those challenges. For McCain, that's going to be the most important thing in having Palin as a member of his ticket," said Stephanie Hitt, (R) delegate from Evanston.

Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden reacted Tuesday to Palin and her daughter's pregnancy.

"She's a governor, that's no mean feat, and she seems to have a strong personal story," he said. "With regards to the stuff you're talking about, I have a simple proposition, children are off limits. Children are off-limits."

Biden added that "we've all been through things with our children" and that "people should be treated with common decency."

McCain and his aides insisted Palin had been checked out thoroughly, and there was little evidence they were concerned about her.

"I haven't seen anything that comes out about her that in any way troubles me or shakes my confidence in her. All it has done for me is say she is a human person with a real family," said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who was McCain's rival during the battle for the party nomination.

And Ron Nehring, chairman of the California state party, said video footage of Palin on a firing range was helping her cause.

"The reports I'm getting back is that every time they show that footage we get 1,000 precinct walkers from the NRA," he said, to laughter.

"She cuts taxes and shoots moose. That's Gov. Palin," Nehring said.

Lieberman to speak

Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic vice presidential candidate, had a leading role in that effort, as did Thompson.

President Bush -- not so much.

And Vice President Cheney not at all.

With approval ratings in the 30 percent range, Bush was given eight or nine minutes to speak, and convention planners made it clear there was no need for him to leave the White House to do so.

"We were in touch with them, and we were trying to figure out what would work best for them, and what would work best for this president," said Dana Perino, White House press secretary.

In the race for the White House, Obama and McCain draw natural strength from their respective party members, leaving independents as the focus of much of the campaign.

A daily Gallup tracking poll released Monday showed the candidates basically tied with independents, 31 percent for McCain to 29 percent for Obama. A CBS survey had it 43-37 for Obama, a slight advantage given the margin of error.

The schedule calls for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to give the convention's keynote speech Wednesday, the same evening delegates deliver the party's nominations to McCain and Palin. The 72-year-old presidential hopeful delivers his acceptance speech before a primetime audience of millions Thursday.

The newly minted ticket is scheduled to leave the convention city on Friday for an eight-week sprint to Election Day.

Polls made the race a close one between Obama, a 47-year-old senator bidding to become the first black president, and McCain, at 72 the oldest first-term presidential nominee in history.

The decision to place Lieberman out front on the convention's second night capped an unprecedented political migration. Only eight years ago, he stood before a cheering throng at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles and accepted the nomination as Al Gore's running mate.

In the years since, he lost badly in 2004 when he sought the Democratic presidential nomination, lost a Democratic nomination for a new term at home in Connecticut in 2006, then recovered quickly to win re-election as an independent.

Back in the Senate, his vote allows the Democrats to command a narrow majority, yet he has been one of the most outspoken supporters of the war in Iraq. He has traveled widely with McCain in recent months, and occasionally has angered Democrats with remarks critical of Obama.

"I'm not going to spend any time tonight attacking Sen. Obama," he said in a pre-speech interview with CNN. He said his objective was to explain "why I am an independent Democrat voting for Sen. McCain."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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