1 of 4
Jae C. Hong, Associated Press
The floor of the Xcel Center is crowded with delegates during the opening session of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., today.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Republicans, determined to propel John McCain to the White House, opened their storm-shortened national convention on Monday amid distractions involving running mate Sarah Palin.

Hours before the convention opened, the Alaska governor disclosed her unmarried 17-year-old daughter was pregnant. That was followed by an announcement that a private lawyer had been hired to represent her in a state investigation into her firing of the state's public safety commissioner.

The convention's opening session was abbreviated as Hurricane Gustav hit the Gulf Coast, sparing New Orleans the type of damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina almost exactly three years ago.

President Bush skipped his planned speech to go to disaster and relief centers, determined to avoid a repeat of the disaster mismanagement of Katrina.

McCain was in Waterville, Ohio, where he helped pack supplies to be sent to the Gulf.

Both men's wives sparked cheers when they appeared before the delegates, shunning politics to urge contributions to help storm victims.

Virtually the only political business of the convention's 2 1/2-hour session was approval of a platform that sidestepped the Iraq War, one of the key issues in the campaign between McCain and Democrat Barack Obama.

"The waging of war — and the achieving of peace — should never be micromanaged in a party platform. ... In dealing with present conflicts or future crises, our next president must preserve all options," it said.

Outside the Xcel center was a reminder of the passions the war stirs.

An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 anti-war protesters marched toward the convention, some of them smashing windows, puncturing tires and throwing bottles along the way. Police used pepper spray on the demonstrators and made at least five arrests.

The convention was less than 15 minutes old when Mike Duncan, chairman of the Republican National Committee, asked delegates to use their cell phones to text a five-digit code that would make a donation to the Red Cross for victims of the hurricane.

It was a theme that first lady Laura Bush and Cindy McCain picked up more than an hour later.

"This is a time when we take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats," McCain said.

Added the first lady: "Our first priority for today and in the coming days is to ensure the safety and well-being of those living in the Gulf Coast region."

Behind the two women was a giant screen showing the names of state-approved charities in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

There was money news of a more conventional type, when John McCain's aides announced he had raised at least $47 million last month for the fall campaign against Democratic rival Barack Obama. It was the largest monthly amount to date for the GOP candidate.

While the opening day convention program was shorn of political rhetoric, aides said McCain was likely to deliver his nomination acceptance speech as scheduled on Thursday.

They added they would determine the podium schedule for the balance of the week on a day-to-day basis.

Some Republicans were eager for a more traditional convention week.

"When the storm passes and we can see that there are enough resources and that lives are not in danger any longer and help is on its way or in place, then that'll be the green light for us to enjoy the celebration we're all here for," said Kelly Burt, a delegate from California.