Palin’s Teen Daughter Is Pregnant; New G.O.P. Tumult
ST. PAUL — The 17-year-old daughter of Gov. Sarah Palin, John McCain’s running mate, is five months pregnant, the Alaskan governor announced Monday, adding a new element of tumult to a Republican convention that had already been disrupted by Hurricane Gustav.
The daughter, Bristol, plans to marry the father, according to the statement, which was issued by Governor Palin and her husband, Todd.
“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,” the statement said. “As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows that she has our unconditional love and support.”
The announcement came after a swirl of rumors by liberal bloggers that the governor’s fifth child, who was born in April, was in fact her daughter’s.
Groups that oppose abortion rights had been thrilled with Mr. McCain’s selection of Ms. Palin as his running mate, partly because of her opposition to abortion. It is not clear how social conservatives will respond to the latest news, but the initial reaction of several delegates to the convention here was supportive of the family.
The McCain campaign said it was aware of the daughter’s pregnancy before Mr. McCain named Ms. Palin as his running mate on Friday.
Steve Schmidt, the chief strategist for the McCain campaign, was surrounded by reporters and cameras as he walked through the media center next door to the Xcel Center in St. Paul, where the convention is taking place. Asked over and over when and how Mr. McCain found out about Bristol’s pregnancy, he repeated, “Senator McCain was aware” of it and called it “a private family matter.” He would not say when Mr. McCain found out or how, calling it a “private conversation.”
“The fact is, John McCain had a thorough search and made the decision to add Sarah Palin to the ticket because he believes” that she “will change America,” Mr. Schmidt said.
He said how big this becomes would depend on the media. “I think the American people will see this news and they’d have good wishes for the young lady and they’ll respect the privacy of the family,” he said.
Asked if Ms. Palin would be able to juggle the demands of the vice presidency with her complicated family life, Mr. Schmidt said, “She’s been a very effective governor and again I can’t imagine that question being asked of a man.”
Ms. Palin’s statement identified the father only by a first name, Levi. “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 statement said. “We ask the media, respect our daughter and Levi’s privacy as has always been the tradition of children of candidates.”
Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, was asked at a brief press conference in Monroe, Mich., about the suggestion by some Republicans that Democrats — particularly liberal bloggers — were trying to advance rumors about the Palin family.
“Our people were not involved in any way in this and they will not be,” Mr. Obama snapped, his voice raised. “And if I ever thought there was somebody in my campaign that was involved in something like that, they’d be fired, O.K.?”
Mr. Obama said the pregnancy “has no relevance to Governor Palin’s performance as a governor or her potential performance as a vice president.” He added that, “my mother had me when she was 18. How a family deals with issues and teen-age children — that shouldn’t be the topic of our politics.”
“So,” he added, “I would strongly urge people to back off these kinds of stories.”
Early reaction among women at the Republican convention to the news about Bristol Palin’s pregnancy was almost uniformly supportive.
“This happens to people in all walks of life,” said Karen Minnis, 54, a state representative from Oregon.
She also said she had no problem with Governor Palin continuing to campaign while her daughter is pregnant and she herself has an infant son.
“She’s already proven herself as a very good multi-tasker,” Ms. Minnis said. “She comes from a great family and it just shouldn’t be an issue.”
When Pam Younggren, 61, of Fargo, N.D., was told the news of the 17-year-old’s pregnancy, she shrugged. “Well, she wouldn’t be the first one,” she said.
“We can’t control what our daughters do,” she said. “I don’t see it as a problem. She will have appropriate care for her baby.”
Mikey Hoeven, 50, who is married to the governor of North Dakota, said that while the situation was difficult, she also said that Mrs. Palin is “tough” and would get through it.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to her,” Mrs. Hoeven said. “Just being a governor will be a challenge, but if anyone can do it, she can. This baby ultimately will be a blessing to the family.”
The women had gathered in St. Paul at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, at an event about women and heart disease. It was one of the first events of the convention and began just after the news about Bristol Palin was coming over their Blackberries and cellphones.
Some of them said, “Oh, my God” when they first heard the news, but they declined to discuss the matter with a reporter.
Many more said they could relate to Mrs. Palin and saw no problem with her continuing to campaign.
Doni Ingram, 61, assistant director of Economic and Community Development for the state of Alabama in Montgomery, said she felt sympathetic to Mrs. Palin because she had raised four children herself.
“She’s raised five kids and has a professional career, and she’ll be just fine,” Mrs. Ingram said.
At least two Democrats were at the event. Julie Zimmerman, 27, who is a program adviser with an educational program called The Washington Center, said she found the news “shocking.”
She also said she hoped the Republicans would undergo “a fundamental re-evaluation of what they mean by family values” and also use the moment to teach young women about sex education.
But she and a friend, Dr. Rachel Sondheimer, 29, also with the Washington Center and an assistant professor of political science at West Point, said they did not really see a problem with the situation.
“If she thinks she can deal with her family and can do that, that’s fine,” Dr. Sondheimer said.
Many of the Republican women, too, had a sense that this was just another challenge that women and mothers face all the time.
“My heart aches for them, I’m sure it’s a tough time for them,” said Sandy Boehler, who is the soon-to-be Republican national committeewoman for North Dakota. “But we have to support them. Look at all the working mothers. Sarah sounds very capable.”
Kathleen Wrigley, 38, who has three children and is married to the United States Attorney for North Dakota, brought up the example of John Edwards, who continued to campaign for president after his wife, Elizabeth, announced last year that she had a recurrence of breast cancer.
“When Edwards announced that, I hated to see anyone pass judgment on him,” she said. “This is not for anyone else to judge. I pray for them that they have the strength to do what’s best.”
At a rally Saturday evening in Washington, Pa., the day after Ms. Palin was named to the ticket, her daughter Bristol did not appear with the rest of her family on stage. The governor said she was taking care of the baby.
“Then we have our daughter Bristol, she’s on the bus with the newborn, and then we have our daughter Willow, who is here, and our youngest daughter Piper,” Ms. Palin said as she introduced her family. “On that bus we have our son, Trig, who is a beautiful baby boy we welcomed into the world just in April. It’s his naptime, so he is with his big sister on the bus. But we thank them for being here. “
“And speaking of Trig, and other things, some of life’s greatest opportunities come unexpectedly,” she said. “And this is certainly the case today. I never really set out to be in public affairs, much less to run for this office.”