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Republican Convention begins for real

AP Photo/Paul Sancya

ST. PAUL - The Republican National Convention turned into a real political convention Tuesday night.

It is time to nominate "a real American hero" for president, first lady Laura Bush said of Arizona Sen. John McCain. The first lady and her husband, President Bush, highlighted the second night of the convention that featured typical cheering, speeches and funny hats.

The president, speaking via satellite from the White House, said McCain's time as a Vietnam prisoner of war helped him.

"If the Hanoi Hilton could not break John McCain's resolve to do what is right for his country, you can be sure the angry left never will," said Bush, in Washington to monitor Hurricane Gustav recovery and other storms aimed at the United States.

Outside the Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul, things were much quieter than they were Monday, when nearly 300 protesters were arrested. Dozens remained in jail Tuesday. A couple of thousand protesters marched Tuesday, but just three arrests were reported.

More protests are expected in the convention's final two days.

Delegates continued to support vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin while many national media reported she faces growing problems with an investigation into the firing of her former brother-in-law, a state trooper. And delegates repeated their support of her unmarried 17-year-old daughter's pregnancy, saying many families have faced similar circumstances.

"Welcome to Pigs Eye," Sen. Norm Coleman told the delegates, reminding them the town where he served eight years as mayor used to have that unusual name.

Coleman delivered the first tough political speech of the convention.

He said the mayor before he took over once asked: "'I'm not indecisive, am I?' That could have been an Obama campaign slogan."

The largest cheers of the 2-day-old convention followed.

The home of the convention, Xcel Energy Center, was built while he was mayor.

"Here we sit in the middle of a great American success story," the first-term senator proclaimed.

The largest employer had left town, unemployment was soaring and "downtown we had the nation's only failed McDonalds," he said.

Building the Xcel, capping taxes for eight years and other changes made St. Paul a much better city, he said.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who serves eastern and northern Twin Cities suburbs northwest to St. Cloud, hit on the topic of the night -- service.

"Some presidential nominees sure know more about service than others," she said, referring to McCain's long military and public service.

"America needs John McCain's service in the White House," she said.

"Services thrive best in the atmosphere of freedom," she said, adding that McCain would do what he could to allow Americans to serve their country.

Bachmann said individuals should provide much of that service.

Long-time friends of the McCain family touted the compassion of the Arizona senator and his wife, Cindy.

Like Bachmann, those speakers praised the McCains for adopting a child.

Most of the discussion Tuesday night, however, was political.

"This is the kind of character that civilizations from the beginning of history have sought in their leaders," said former Sen. Fred Thompson, also an actor and former presidential candidate. "Strength. Courage. Humility. Wisdom. Duty. Honor. It's pretty clear there are two questions we will never have to ask ourselves, 'Who is this man?' and 'Can we trust this man with the presidency?'"

Thompson, long a McCain friend, emphasized McCain's foreign policy and military background. When McCain travels to Iraq, for instance, he would rather quietly talks to troops than to hold events just to get publicity, Thompson said.

The ex-Tennessee senator said that McCain is a reformer, something that in recent days has become a rallying cry for the party.

"While others were talking reform, John McCain led the effort to make reform happen - always pressing, always moving for what he believed was right and necessary to restore the people's faith in their government," Thompson said.

After Thompson, Lieberman was to tell delegates and a national television audience why he, as a former Democrat, supports McCain. Also, President Bush was to speak via satellite from the White House.

McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, said since the convention eliminated prime-time activity Monday -- at McCain's request -- to focus attention on Hurricane Gustav's Gulf Coast landfall, Republicans have lost one night in front of the American people.

"Obviously we lost a lot of opportunities to pass on our message last night," Davis told a conference call with reporters this morning.

After McCain urged convention organizers to tone down the gathering in light of Gustav, they cut Monday's meeting down to the bare essentials, emphasizing hurricane relief over politics.

One of the loudest cheers of the night came when former President George H.W. and Barbara Bush entered the arena. Cindy McCain also was there.