ST. PAUL, Minn. — Just three days after Sen. John McCain dropped a bombshell that the little-known governor of Alaska would be his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin dropped a surprise of her own: Her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is five months pregnant.
Palin and her husband, Todd, announced the news Monday to end rumors that their 4-month-old son, Trig, is actually Bristol's, and that the governor pretended to have the baby to cover up her daughter's pregnancy.
The revelation did nothing to dim enthusiasm for Palin among conservatives gathered at the Republican National Convention in Minnesota.
"Most people understand that unfortunately some daughters do get pregnant. All of us have known, if it hasn't happened to ourselves, some daughter who's gotten pregnant. I really don't think it's going to be a significant factor at all. It's a one-day story," said Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum.
Cynthia Henderson, a delegate and lobbyist from Tallahassee, said the news shows Palin is "a real person" and predicted her handling of the matter would only make people respect her more.
"Look at the classic family challenges she has had in her life — a baby with Down syndrome and this with her daughter,'' said attorney Fred Leonhardt, a delegate from Orlando. "It helps identify the political leader with the American people. That's a real-world person, not just a politician."
The Palin family said Bristol plans to marry the baby's father, her boyfriend, and that she made the decision to keep the baby on her own. Gov. Palin is an evangelical Christian who staunchly opposes abortion. No wedding date has been announced.
The McCain campaign confirmed Monday night that the father's full name is Levi Johnston, 17, a high school student in Wasilla, Alaska.
"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 Palins said in a statement released earlier by the McCain campaign. "We're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents."
Campaign aides said McCain knew about Bristol's pregnancy when he chose Palin for his running mate last week, and his strategists don't believe it will become a campaign liability.
Palin advocated abstinence-only education during her 2006 gubernatorial race, as does the 2008 GOP platform, which supports teaching "abstinence until marriage as the responsible and expected standard of behavior."
Democratic consultant Ana Cruz of Tampa speculated that the news could be just the start of revelations about the Alaska governor. "Clearly those folks did not vet her enough," Cruz said. "Honestly, I think we're going to have a field day with her."
Several McCain allies argued that it seemed to have no immediate effect, at least publicly, on the widespread support for Palin's candidacy among social and religious conservatives.
As he attended a gathering of conservative leaders in the Twin Cities, Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said the news "does say to pro-lifers that these people are serious about this approach, and I think this makes them more real. This is a real family, with real challenges that really holds together."
"I hope this doesn't become a part of the campaign, but to the extent that it is, I think that it reflects well on how they're handing it," he added.
Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, who is to arrive in St. Paul today for the "Life of the Party Party," celebrating the GOP's opposition to abortion, praised Bristol for "choosing life in midst of a difficult situation."
"Unfortunately, teenage pregnancy has become all too common in today's society regardless of a family's economic or social status," he said. "It is a problem that we remain committed to reducing through encouraging young people to practice abstinence."
Speaking to reporters in Michigan, Democrat Barack Obama said: "I think people's families are off-limits. People's children are especially off-limits. This shouldn't be part of our politics."