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Palin, Gustav News Stirs Up Republican Convention


Of course, no flood wall could keep Hurricane Gustav from knocking the Republican National Convention off-schedule yesterday, and then came this news. The teenage daughter of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin is five months pregnant. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson is in St. Paul, Minnesota, where the Republicans reconvene their convention today. Mara, good morning.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I guess the advice that's normally given when you pick a running mate is the same as the advice to doctors: First, do no harm. Does Palin's selection still meet that criterion?

LIASSON: Well, among people here, it still does. I mean, there's a little nervousness, but overall, I think everyone is rallying to her, and it doesn't seem to have dented her image as a conservative folk hero.

You know, a lot of delegates here and activist Republicans, from what I see on the Internet, can relate to this. A lot of people either have a 17-year-old or know one who's gotten pregnant, and conservative Christian leaders in particular are applauding the decision of Bristol Palin to keep this baby and get married.

So I would say so far, I don't pick up a lot of buyers' remorse among Republicans. John McCain has raised $10 million since he chose Palin to be on the ticket. He had a $47-million month in August, so that's pretty good. I think, yes, it's a distraction, but not one that's hurting her yet.

INSKEEP: Barack Obama seemed to be able to relate to this with a teenage mother himself.

LIASSON: Yes, that's right. His mother was 18 when he was born, and he said yesterday, this should be off-limits. Families should be off-limits. That doesn't mean that the media has left this off-limits. There's been a big discussion now, particularly among women.

Should Sarah Palin stay home with her special-needs baby and her pregnant teenager? She calls herself a pro-life feminist, and I think there are a lot of conservative women who say that's a kind of sexist argument for liberal feminists to make.

There's been discussion of abstinence-only sex education, which is something that Palin supports. So this has become a pretty complicated discussion, and it'll be really interesting to see how these campaigns handle it. I suspect the Obama campaign will follow the wishes of the candidate and not touch it at all.

INSKEEP: Let's wade into another complicated discussion involving Governor Palin, Alaska's governor, this thing called Troopergate. I'll try to summarize this this way. The governor allegedly - allegedly tried to get rid of a state trooper who was divorcing from Palin's sister. And then when the state public safety commissioner wouldn't do that, she got rid of the public safety commissioner. Have people been talking about that at the convention?

LIASSON: Yes, they have. They don't know where this is going, although it's not like a financial scandal that could hemorrhage. There is a little bit of nervousness about that.

There also was news that her husband, 20 years ago when he was 22, had a DUI. Now that is actually something that a lot of people can relate to. The big question that these things raise is was Palin vetted too quickly? If she was, that would reflect poorly on John McCain.

The McCain camp say they knew all of this all along, but they are sending a 12-member team of operatives to Alaska to deal with this and anything else that might come up.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, Mara Liasson, can you just give us a sense now that Gustav has passed New Orleans and come ashore and become a tropical depression? Is it going to affect the convention very much more?

LIASSON: Well, it already affected it. Of course, it curtailed it, really, into three nights of speeches. I think it gave the Republicans a big opportunity to mitigate some of the stain of Katrina.

The first night was all about hurricane relief. I think we will be getting back to a more conventional convention schedule tonight. We're hearing Bush may speak by videotape after all. But all this might just prove that three days of a convention is plenty.

INSKEEP: Mara, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, and she's part of our team of correspondents covering the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.