Teenage pregnancy eclipses start of Republican convention

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Storms, both literal and political, overshadowed the start of the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis yesterday.

The party’s presumptive nominee for President of the United States, John McCain, and his running mate Sarah Palin were in Louisiana, as was President Bush, as Hurricane Gustav harried and threatened the state’s coastline.

The Republicans are desperate not to have a repeat of the federal mismanagement of Hurricane Katrina two years ago, when tens of thousands of poor New Orleans residents were left stranded in the flooded city.

“I have every expectation that we will not see the mistakes of Katrina repeated,” Senator McCain said on Sunday.

There is even talk of him delivering his acceptance speech via satellite link up if he chooses to remain in the Gulf region.

Yesterday, which was a public holiday in the US, saw little convention activity. It was formally opened and other official business was conducted, but the mood was muted.

However, delegates had lots to talk about after their Vice Presidential candidate dropped a bombshell – her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant.

While Sarah Palin’s supporters stressed that she had informed Senator McCain of the situation before he offered her the Vice Presidential slot, others were taken aback.

On course to become a grandmother at aged 44, Ms Palin, who is the Governor of Alaska, issued the following statement:

“We have been blessed with five wonderful children who we love with all our heart and mean everything to us.

“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.

“As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows she has our unconditional love and support.

“Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realise very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family.

“We ask the media to respect our daughter and Levi’s privacy as has always been the tradition of children of candidates.”

Bristol Palin is thought to be five months pregnant.

Politics blogs in America had been full of conspiracy theories that Bristol was in fact the mother of Governor Palin’s fifth child, who was born in April and has Down’s Syndrome.

While that rumour has been scotched, the Alaskan’s reputation among some Christian conservatives may suffer, and her strong support for abstinence-only sex education in schools has been called into question.

The former small town mayor would become the first woman to take office as Vice President if elected.

Geraldine Ferraro, the only other female VP candidate from a major party, lost when she ran with Walter Mondale in 1984.

Governor Palin is three years younger than Barack Obama, who accepted the Democratic party’s nomination yesterday, and 28 years younger than Senator McCain.

She was elected Governor of Alaska less than two years ago. Her husband Todd is a Yup’ik Alaskan native.

The eldest of her five children, 18-year-old Track, is due to begin his military service in Iraq next month.

Her image as a hunting, shooting, snowmobile-riding outdoors woman helped boost her popularity in Alaska.

Governor Palin opposes abortion rights and supports the death penalty and Alaska’s ban on gay marriage.

While she claims to have gay friends and is receptive to arguments about discrimination, she said she would support a statewide ballot question in Alaska that would deny benefits to homosexual couples.

“I believe that honouring the family structure is that important,” she told the Anchorage Daily News in 2006.

However, she later reluctantly agreed to follow the state Supreme Court ruling that same sex partners should receive equal benefits to heterosexual couples.