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GOP wasn't expecting this challenge

CAMPAIGN '08

McCain's campaign is shaken up by the announcement that his running mate's teen daughter is pregnant.

September 02, 2008|Mark Z. Barabak | Times Staff Writer

Few expressed surprise that they were planning marriage at their age. "I think she's pretty responsible by keeping the baby," said Weston Patrick, 17, whose mother, Judy Patrick, was Palin's deputy mayor in Wasilla.

Bristol has split her high school years since Palin's election between Wasilla, Juneau and Anchorage, friends of the family said.

Levi occasionally made the papers with his hockey exploits. In February, he played the final game for Wasilla High School at the state tournament with a cracked tibia, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win.

Both Bristol and Levi appear in the 2006 Wasilla High yearbook. Levi is pictured with curly brown hair and a smile, and Bristol wears braces. His photo this year shows him in his red hockey uniform.

Leaders of the Christian right and convention delegates were quick to rally behind the GOP ticket. James Dobson, head of the conservative group Focus on the Family and a past critic of McCain, said Palin and her husband should "be commended once again for not just talking about their pro-life and pro-family values, but living them out even in the midst of trying circumstances."

Privately, however, some Republican insiders said that the next few days could be crucial to the futures of McCain and Palin. "If instead of looking like a hockey mom, she looks like a person from a weird family, this could sink her," said one GOP strategist who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

News of the pregnancy was yet another distraction for McCain, whose convention has been overshadowed by Hurricane Gustav, which plowed through Louisiana on Monday. The four-day gathering had been intended as a coming-out party for Palin, who is to deliver her acceptance speech Wednesday night. She has yet to make the usual round of social calls to meet delegates and party leaders.

Bristol Palin appeared in Dayton, Ohio, on Friday holding her baby brother when McCain announced that he had chosen Sarah Palin as his running mate. An image of Bristol from that event was broadcast throughout the day on TV.

Despite Palin's staunch record of opposing abortion, she had kept a relatively low profile on the issue, rebuffing calls from fellow Republicans to require parental consent for teenage abortions and to ban late-term procedures.

When Palin was running for governor in 2006, she said on a questionnaire for the conservative group Eagle Forum Alaska that she would support funding for abstinence-only education instead of explicit sex education programs, school-based clinics and distribution of condoms.

The pregnancy would be an unwelcome diversion for any candidate, but McCain has seemed particularly uncomfortable dealing with birth control issues. In 2007, the candidate stumbled when a reporter in Iowa asked his position on funding condoms to fight AIDS. He called on a member of his staff to "find out what my position is on contraception."

In July, McCain stammered when asked about an advisor's statement wondering why insurance plans cover Viagra but not women's contraception. The candidate paused and looked perturbed before saying he couldn't recall his position. When pressed, he replied: "I don't usually duck an issue, but I'll try to get back to you."

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mark.barabak@latimes.com

Times staff writers Robin Abcarian, Bob Drogin, James Hohmann, Doyle McManus, Marjorie Miller, Kim Murphy, James Rainey and Maeve Reston contributed to this report.

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