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McCain VP Pick Says Teen Daughter Is Pregnant

NEAL CONAN, host:

Hurricane Gustav may have come ashore west of New Orleans, but its effects are being felt as away as St. Paul, Minnesota, where Republicans are gathered for their national convention. Because of the hurricane, today's events have been downgraded to necessary party procedures, so there will be none of the usual pageantry and little of usual rhetoric. Earlier today, Senator John McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, made more waves as she announced her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is five months pregnant. That came out after the Internet was abuzz for several days that Palin's youngest son was not her's but her daughter's. Here to give us reaction from St. Paul is NPR political editor and political junkie Ken Rudin is at the NPR studios at the Republican Convention. Ken, nice to have you on the program.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal. Boy, it just doesn't stop with these stories.

CONAN: Well, this newest story obviously, so much has changed. President Bush was expected there in Saint Paul tonight to address the convention. He's now in Austin, Texas trying to monitor developments with Gustav, but everybody there must be talking about the Sarah Palin story.

RUDIN: Well, much - probably not everybody knows about it yet. Certainly the journalists who are covering it know about it, and for most part the delegates you run across are not aware of the latest story, that they're still very high on Sarah Palin pick. They think it's, you know she's good, she energizes the base, but of course as more the news about her family life - her Republican family values life comes out, it may be more interesting what the delegates have to say.

CONAN: Well take us through this story on Friday, Sarah Palin announced as the prospective running mate, the vice presidential nominee for the Republican party appears on stage with Senator McCain there in Dayton, Ohio. There with her family, including her daughter Bristol, who's holding that four-month-old baby, Trig.

RUDIN: Right, and then there were rumors on the Internet, of course, that said that this was actually not Sarah Palin's child, because rumors, I mean, I can't believe we're talking about rumors here, but again when you're in a convention like this. When everything is just - when Sarah Palin is just such fresh news to you, you just, you know, everything is bombarded on you at once. But the rumor of course out there was that it was not Sarah Palin's daughter, but it was - actually her son Trig, but it was Bristol's son. Bristol, of course, missed five months of school, according to the reports on the various blogs. But Bristol missed five months of school because she had mono. Sarah Palin didn't announce she was pregnant till she was seven months pregnant, so there a lot of whispering going on and everybody, the Republicans I talked to and all a lot of people I spoke to said we are having a Tom Eagleton moment all over again. About learning about something that we didn't expect and some kind of amazing thing could happen - explosion on the Republican ticket.

CONAN: We know that these rumors are just rumors. They're not verified and apparently today, the McCain campaign felt it necessary to release the news, which he had not decided to release earlier. That in fact, Bristol Palin is five months pregnant. Do the math. That would make it impossible for the son Trig to be hers. And that they were announcing that because of these are rumors on the internet.

RUDIN: That's exactly right. And the McCain campaign says that during the vetting process, and we're still wondering about how thorough the vetting process was, the McCain campaign did know about Sarah Palin's daughter being pregnant. And again, it was a private family matter as Sarah Palin said in the statement - as Palin said in the statement today, it is a family matter, please respect our family's privacy.

CONAN: A family matter yet, she paraded her family in front of the national media as part of her story.

RUDIN: That's exactly right, but if your 17-year-old daughter is unmarried and pregnant it's not something you want to announce to the national media either.

CONAN: And on the other hand, it's going to come out sooner or later, is it not?

RUDIN: It is, but at the same time you also have Gustav on the, you know, the 24/7 cable, on every newspaper on the country I guess. I mean, of course, it will be the news coming out of St. Paul, other than the fact that the president is not here tonight. Of course, it will be Cindy McCain and Laura Bush addressing the delegates briefly at the end of the two and half hour session calling for donations, Red Cross, things like that. But you know it would come out, but again it's just something that would have come out and you know - you just wonder about the vetting process and you always talk about how long, how long did John McCain know Sarah Palin, how well do they know each other, how much was Sarah Palin vetted? You just wonder about things like this, and exactly, this is exactly what - you know the maximum - the slogan for vice presidential running mate was do no harm and you still wonder whether that's still holds true, but you know we still have some days to go before we see what's happened.

CONAN: And you'd expect the first six or so questions to each of these candidates will be about these rather than what they're doing in there. Anyway we have...

RUDIN: Barack Obama was asked about that today he said look I want to touch this, this has nothing to do whether she's qualified to be vice president or her qualifications to be governor of Alaska, this is not something we should be focusing on.

CONAN: And of course there will be much more on this later today, and Ken, very briefly as you mentioned the Republicans are taking the opportunity of Hurricane Gustav to take off their Republican hats and put on their American hats and try to raise money for victims.

RUDIN: Absolutely, I suspect that the beginning of the end for the Republican Party was not so much the Iraqi war or the gas prices but it was Katrina, the lack of coherent administrational response to it three years ago. Republicans are making sure that does not happen again. They seem well prepared and they're pulling - putting politics aside, and in some ways for this tragedy.

CONAN: Ken Rudin, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: NPR political editor Ken Rudin with us from NPR's headquarters there in St. Paul, Minnesota at the Republican National Convention. Live coverage of the events on the Republican Convention will be heard on many of these NPR stations, you can also go to npr.org. I'm Neal Conan, this is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. 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.