- (Photo: AP Images / Mary Altaffer, File)
ST. PAUL, Minn. - John McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, said Monday her 17-year-old unmarried daughter is five months pregnant, an announcement stealing even more thunder from McCain and a Republican presidential convention already overshadowed by Hurricane Gustav.
Adding to the day's drama, McCain aides said the announcement was aimed at rebutting Internet rumors that Palin's youngest son, born in April, was actually her daughter's.
The national convention, which a political party counts on to send its candidate surging into the fall campaign, already had been relegated to a distant second to the hurricane on TV, in newspapers and on Internet Web sites.
Monday's statement, attributed to Sarah and Todd Palin and released by the campaign, said that Bristol Palin would keep her baby and marry the child's father, identified only as a young man named Levi. The baby is due in late December.
"Our beautiful daughter Bristol came to us with news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned. We're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents," Sarah and Todd Palin said in their brief statement.
The disclosure came on the opening day of the Republican National Convention, which has been scaled back because of Hurricane Gustav, and three days after McCain named Palin as his vice presidential running mate. Coming after the randomness of Gustav, the revelation added to the sense of unscriptedness that is hanging over the convention.
"Life happens," said McCain adviser Steve Schmidt.
"An American family," added colleague Mark Salter.
Palin told McCain's team about the pregnancy during lengthy discussions about her background, and the senator knew about it when he made her his surprise pick Friday, aides said. At several points during the discussions, McCain's team warned Palin that the scrutiny into her private life would be intense and that there was nothing she could do to prepare for it.
Prominent religious conservatives, many of whom have been lukewarm toward McCain's candidacy, predicted that the announcement would not diminish conservative Christian enthusiasm for the vice presidential hopeful, a staunch abortion opponent. In fact, there was talk that it might help.
The convention opened on time, though shortened out of concern that the party did not want to be seen whooping it up in St. Paul while thousands of Americans along the Gulf Coast were being threatened by the hurricane. From the convention podium, GOP officials asked delegates to take out their cell phones and text-message contributions to help in the relief effort.
McCain's wife, Cindy, and first lady Laura Bush were making their own appeals for relief help in the convention hall later in the day.
The delegates took up the party platform and other business, but most of the opening-day speeches — all of which had been expected to acclaim McCain and assail Democratic opponent Barack Obama — were scrapped.
Palin, the first-term Alaska governor, was in Minnesota preparing for her Wednesday night nomination acceptance speech when the campaign issued the statement from her and her husband; her family was home in Alaska.
"Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family," the parents said.
The campaign said it was not disclosing the father's full name or age or how he and Bristol knew each other, citing privacy.
Sarah Palin's fifth child, a son named Trig, was born in April with Down syndrome. Internet bloggers have been suggesting that the child was actually born to Bristol Palin but that her mother, the 44-year-old Alaska governor, claimed to be the mother.
Palin spokesman Bill McAllister emphatically denied those rumors, and McCain adviser Mark Salter said the campaign announced the daughter's pregnancy to rebut them.
"Senator McCain's view is this is a private family matter. As parents, (the Palins) love their daughter unconditionally and are going to support their daughter," said McCain spokesman Steve Schmidt.
Reaction from religious conservatives was sympathetic.
Focus on the Family founder James Dobson issued a statement commending the Palins "for not just talking about their pro-life and pro-family values, but living them out even in the midst of trying circumstances." He added: "Being a Christian does not mean you're perfect. Nor does it mean your children are perfect. But it does mean there is forgiveness and restoration when we confess our imperfections to the Lord."
Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition of America called the pregnancy private. "It's a matter that should stay in the family and they have to work through it together. My prayers go out to them."
Added Combs: "We're excited about the governor and think she's going to do well."
Mathew Staver, dean of Liberty University School of Law, said: "We're all sinners."
"We all make mistakes. Certainly, the ideal is not to get pregnant out of wedlock. But she made the right decision after her mistake," he said.
McCain advisers said Palin told them about the pregnancy during lengthy discussions about her background. At several points during the discussions, McCain's team warned Palin that the scrutiny into her private life would be intense.
Advisers said Palin's daughter should be afforded privacy like the other candidates' children. Said Schmidt: "If people try to politicize this, the American people will be appalled."
In Monroe, Mich., Democrat Obama condemned rumors involving the children of candidates and echoed the McCain campaign argument. He said, "I think people's families are off limits, and people's children are especially off limits."
"Our people were not involved in any way in this, and they will not be," he said. "And if I ever thought that there was somebody in my campaign that was involved in something like that, they'd be fired."
Associated Press Writers Eric Gorski in St. Paul, Charles Babington in Monroe, Mich., and Steve Quinn in Anchorage, Alaska, contributed to this report.