ST. PAUL, Minn. The big story on the first day of the Republican National Convention had nothing to do with politics. It had everything to do with sex, which some consider almost as exciting.
Everybody on and off the convention floor was chattering about how the 17-year-old daughter of John McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, is five months pregnant and unmarried.
And while being pregnant and unmarried is hardly a phenomenon in America these days, it was not supposed to be the major talking point of the convention's opening day.
The McCain campaign said it knew about the pregnancy of Bristol Palin before her mother was placed on the ticket, and campaign operatives were quick to spread the word that the whole matter makes the Palin family look even more "real" and even more committed in its opposition to abortion.
Bristol will not only have the baby, campaign operatives pointed out, but will marry the father of her child. Which is an example, they said, of American values.
"Life happens," McCain spokesman Steve Schmidt said.
"An American family," McCain strategist Mark Salter said.
Now if the campaign could just manage to arrange Bristol's marriage on stage at the convention, it might generate some much-needed positive buzz and a good photo op.
As it was, because of Hurricane Gustav, the opening day of the convention was purely procedural and very low energy.
The planned speeches of President Bush and Vice President Cheney had been canceled, though Laura Bush and Cindy McCain did briefly take the stage to conduct a mini-marathon to raise money for the victims of Gustav.
Nothing the least bit exciting was on the schedule, but virtually all the convention delegates dutifully showed up anyway. When Mike Duncan, chairman of the Republican Party, gaveled the convention to order at 2:41 p.m. local time Monday, about 95 percent of the delegates were in their seats by my estimate. Duncan stood on a low, starkly bare stage, behind a wooden lectern that looked like it had been dragged in from the nearest hotel ballroom.
A week before, only about 10 percent of the delegates were on the floor when Howard Dean, the Democratic Party chairman, gaveled his convention to order in Denver. Clearly, Republicans, being more orderly, show up when they are supposed to show up even if there is no compelling reason for them to do so.
On the convention floor, McCain "whips" prowled around wearing yellow baseball caps and looking for something to do. In the old days, when conventions were real and not television events, whips were needed to keep the delegates in line during multiple ballots.
But multiple ballots have disappeared along with any real suspense at these conventions. The last time delegates failed to choose a nominee on the first ballot was in 1952, when Adlai Stevenson beat Estes Kefauver on the third ballot of the Democratic convention in Chicago.
So these days the main job of whips is to wear baseball caps. The utility of the nominees, themselves, however, has increased.
While John McCain expects to accept his nomination in person here on Thursday, it is not actually necessary. Until 1932, no nominee had ever appeared at a convention. It was considered vulgar and beneath the dignity of the office. But that year, Franklin D. Roosevelt shocked Democrats by flying from Albany, N.Y., to Chicago to accept the nomination and say: "I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people."
The phrase caught on, and convention speeches by the nominee became a big deal.
McCain, who is far better at answering audience questions at town hall meetings than he is at giving formal speeches, faces a daunting task Thursday, especially after Barack Obama wowed a huge crowd in Denver last week.
But his aides say he is up to the task and unworried by any comparisons.
They also say the entire campaign is looking forward to having people talk about politics again instead of sex. If that is possible.