(AP) - Republicans relegated President Bush to a brief, offsite cameo at their national convention Tuesday night and awarded one-time Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman a prime-time speaking slot as they courted millions of independent voters essential to John McCain's presidential hopes.
Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman will also speak, welcoming delegates to St. Paul, and Rep. Michele Bachmann is also on the schedule.
One day after a frightening Gulf Coast hurricane prompted a subdued opening to the McCain convention, political combat enjoyed a resurgence.
McCain's aides disputed a claim that vice presidential running mate Sarah Palin had once been a member of a third party - and accused Democratic rival Barack Obama's camp of spreading false information.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton retorted that, going by the reports he'd seen, "the only person talking about her being in the Alaska Independence Party is the head of the Alaska Independence Party. Their gripe is with those folks."
After disclosures that an attorney has been hired to represent Palin in an investigation into an Alaska controversy, and that her unmarried daughter was pregnant, McCain said of his campaign's background checks: The "vetting process was completely thorough and I'm grateful for the results."
McCain was campaigning in Philadelphia as his convention planners said in St. Paul that they intended to cast him - an Arizona senator and former Vietnam prisoner of war - as a man who has devoted his life to public service.
"We are looking forward to showcasing John McCain's lifelong record of putting his country first," said Republican National Committee Chairman Robert M. "Mike" Duncan.
Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic vice presidential candidate, had a leading role in that effort, as did former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, better known as a TV actor.
President Bush - not so much.
And Vice President Cheney not at all.
With approval ratings in the 30 percent range, Bush was given eight or nine minutes to speak, and convention planners made it clear there was no need for him to leave the White House to do so.
“She cuts taxes and shoots moose. That's Gov. Palin.”Ron Nehring, chairman of the California state Republican Party
"We were in touch with them, and we were trying to figure out what would work best for them, and what would work best for this president," said Dana Perino, White House press secretary.
In the race for the White House, Obama and McCain draw natural strength from their respective party members, leaving independents as the focus of much of the campaign.
A daily Gallup tracking poll released on Monday showed the candidates basically tied with independents, 31 percent for McCain to 29 percent for Obama. A CBS survey had it 43-37 for Obama, a slight advantage given the margin of error.
After a political time-out of sorts on the convention's opening day, when Hurricane Gustav threatened New Orleans, Republicans repackaged what had been four days of speechmaking into three.
The schedule calls for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to give the convention's keynote speech Wednesday, the same evening delegates deliver the party's nominations to McCain and Palin. The 72-year-old presidential hopeful delivers his acceptance speech before a prime time audience of millions on Thursday.
The newly minted ticket is scheduled to leave the convention city on Friday for an eight-week sprint to Election Day.
Polls made the race a close one between Obama, a 47-year-old senator bidding to become the first black president, and McCain, at 72 the oldest first-term presidential nominee in history.
The decision to place Lieberman out front on the convention's second night capped an unprecedented political migration. Only eight years ago, he stood before a cheering throng at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles and accepted the nomination as Al Gore's running mate.
In the years since, he lost badly in 2004 when he sought the Democratic presidential nomination, lost a Democratic nomination for a new term at home in Connecticut in 2006, then recovered quickly to win re-election as an independent.
Back in the Senate, his vote allows the Democrats to command a narrow majority, yet he has been one of the most outspoken supporters of the war in Iraq. He has traveled widely with McCain in recent months, and occasionally has angered Democrats with remarks critical of Obama.
"I'm not going to spend any time tonight attacking Sen. Obama," he said in a pre-speech interview with CNN. He said his objective was to explain "why I am an independent Democrat voting for Sen. McCain."
McCain and his aides insisted Palin had been checked out thoroughly, and there was little evidence they were concerned about her.
"I haven't seen anything that comes out about her that in any way troubles me or shakes my confidence in her. All it has done for me is say she is a human person with a real family," said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who was McCain's rival during the battle for the party nomination.
And Ron Nehring, chairman of the California state party, said video footage of Palin on a firing range was helping her cause.
"The reports I'm getting back is that every time they show that footage we get 1,000 precinct walkers from the NRA," he said, to laughter.
"She cuts taxes and shoots moose. That's Gov. Palin," Nehring said.
Protesters outside the hall vowed to resume demonstrations that turned violent on Monday and resulted in 286 arrests.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)