Days after her stunning selection as the Republican candidate for vice president, Gov. Sarah Palin popped another surprise on the nation: Her unmarried 17-year-old daughter is pregnant.
The news emerged from the McCain camp early Monday to ward off growing Internet rumors about the governor's family. The campaign released a statement from Palin and her husband, Todd, and it immediately became big national news.
"We have been blessed with five wonderful children who we love with all our heart and mean everything to us. 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. We're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents. As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows she has our unconditional love and support.
"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. We ask the media to respect our daughter and Levi's privacy as has always been the tradition of children of candidates."
Palin's inner circle said little Monday about the pregnancy, which has been a rumor in the Valley in recent months.
"She's just a sweet girl and things happen in a family," said Gov. Palin's sister, Heather Bruce.
McCain's Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, said the reports that Palin's daughter is five months pregnant have no relevance to the Alaska governor's potential performance as vice president.
"You know my mother had me when she was 18," Obama told reporters. "And how family deals with issues and teenage children, that shouldn't be the topic of our politics and I hope that anybody who is supporting me understands that is off limits."
The announcement, which included the father's first name but no other information, triggered a frenzy from news media from across the country hunting down young Alaskans named Levi in a scramble to determine the father's identity.
In Wasilla, it is widely known that Palin's daughter has dated Levi Johnston, an 18-year-old Wasilla High School hockey player.
A family friend answered the door Monday at the Johnston home, outside Wasilla. When a reporter mentioned Bristol Palin, the friend, Anna Arodzero, said, "You can contact the McCain-Palin headquarters."
The campaign is providing no more details about the father. Palin, 44, wasn't available for interviews on Monday.
Bristol is the second of Palin's five children.
Announcing her pregnancy debunked the widespread and snowballing Internet speculation that Palin's youngest -- 4-month-old Trig -- was somehow Bristol's baby. But it also pushed the 17-year-old to the front of the news cycle as the country scrambles to get to know Palin and her family.
The news dominated political reporting on a day when the Republican national convention in St. Paul was in a state of suspended animation as Hurricane Gustav lashed the Louisiana coast.
Reporters from Washington to Wasilla scrambled for details of the pregnancy to feed unending coverage on cable television and the Internet. And the matter raised questions about how well McCain had researched Palin's background before tapping the Alaska governor as his running mate.
McCain advisers said that he knew about the pregnancy before he settled on Palin last week.
As their National Convention got under way Monday, Republicans stood by Palin and tried to make the news media, rather than McCain's decision-making, the issue.
"We're asking the media to respect a person's privacy," said Maria Comella, Palin's campaign spokesman.
A McCain adviser, Douglas Holt-Eakin, called the Palin pregnancy a family matter "best left to them." He bristled when asked about what one reporter called "the love child."
"Show a little respect," he said.
A crowd of reporters at the convention hammered McCain senior adviser Steve Schmidt about the Palin pregnancy, asking repeated questions. All Schmidt would say is Palin and McCain had discussed the pregnancy and considered it to be a private matter.
"Life happens," said Schmidt.
HIGH SCHOOL JUNIOR
Bristol Palin started the 2007-08 school year as a junior at Wasilla High School, according to yearbooks, but later lived with her aunt in Anchorage while attending West High for the spring semester.
Standing in the doorway of her West Anchorage home Monday afternoon, the aunt, Heather Bruce said Bristol's pregnancy shouldn't be a campaign issue.
On that point, she said, "I agree with Obama."
Longtime Palin family friend Curt Menard, the mayor of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, said he thought people won't hold the pregnancy news against the governor.
"The average families know that things happen and you just have to be positive with it and just make the best of the situation and it'll turn out fine," Menard said. "I don't think it will hurt Sarah a bit.
Palin remains hugely popular with the delegates gathered in St. Paul.
More than a dozen delegates interviewed Monday all said the pregnancy should have no impact on the McCain campaign.
Sen. Norm Coleman, a delegate from Minnesota, said he didn't think the media would have the same reaction to the news if Palin were a man. Fellow Minnesota delegate Brent Frazier said "this just shows Americans that the Palin family is a common family."
Tom Azinger, a delegate from West Virginia, said Palin's social conservative credentials will outweigh the pregnancy's impact. Azinger said it will "backfire" on anyone who tries to make an issue of it.
Randy Ruedrich, the Alaska Republican Party chairman who has battled with Palin, said every family has what he called unique events.
"From a family values standpoint, I understand the family is totally supportive of the young couple and their child and I think that's quite positive," Ruedrich said. "I think it's consistent with Republican Party values."
Anchorage Republican Rep. Bob Lynn, another delegate, said he doesn't think it will matter to voters in November.
"I think conservative and liberal and moderate voters all agree it is a private family matter," he said.
McCain adviser Holtz-Eakin agreed and said Palin is turning out to be a huge hit.
"I've never seen anything like the excitement she's brought to the ticket," he said.
Sean Cockerham reported from the St. Paul, Kyle Hopkins from Anchorage and Zaz Hollander in Wasilla. Also contributing were Daily News reporter Richard Mauer, David Lightman and Steve Thomma of McClatchy Newspapers and McClatchy intern Shawn Boonstral.