McCain vows to shake up Washington
ST. PAUL - Prisoner of war-turned-presidential candidate John McCain promises to change Washington by getting along with the opposition, reforming government and, in general, putting the country first.
The maverick politician showed both his quiet and his tough sides Thursday night in accepting the Republican presidential nomination.
"I wouldn't be an American worthy of the name if I didn't honor Sen. Obama and his supporters for their achievement," he said of Democratic candidate Barack Obama. "But let there be no doubt, my friends, we're going to win this election. And after we've won, we're going to reach out our hand to any willing patriot, make this government start working for you again, and get this country back on the road to prosperity and peace."
Several times early in his speech, people in the balcony of St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center shouted opposition to McCain, each time rebutted by 20,000 Republicans with shouts of "USA, USA."
"Americans want us to stop yelling at each other," McCain said to quell the disturbances.
In his soft-spoken manner during a 50-minute speech, McCain promised to smooth over differences in Washington, much like he worked to open American relations with Vietnam, which held him prisoner of war for more than five years.
"The constant partisan rancor that stops us from solving these problems isn't a cause, it's a symptom," he said. "It's what happens when people go to Washington to work for themselves and not you."
Republican delegates greeted McCain, applauding several minutes before allowing him to speak. He spoke from a podium at the end of a runway jutting into the crowded arena floor.
McCain emphasized his maverick image: "I don't work for a party. I don't work for a special interest. I work for you."
He continued to talk about making changes to the country's energy industry.
"We are going to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don't like us very much," he said.
He promised to cut the purchase of foreign oil by drilling more oil wells off the American shore, building more nuclear power plants, and using more wind, tide, solar and natural gas.
"We will encourage the development and use of flex fuel, hybrid and electric automobiles," he said.
Much of his speech revolved around foreign affairs.
"I'm running for president to keep the country I love safe, and prevent other families from risking their loved ones in war as my family has," the Navy veteran said. "I will draw on all my experience with the world and its leaders, and all the tools at our disposal -- diplomatic, economic, military and the power of our ideals -- to build the foundations for a stable and enduring peace."
The packed arena rocked to the song "Raising McCain" after his speech, with 200,000 red, white and blue balloons falling from the ceiling.
McCain's speech concluded a four-day Republican National Convention that started slowly when the candidate asked GOP leaders to tone down activities in light of Hurricane Gustav. However, the convention returned to partisan attacks and strong rhetoric Wednesday night when McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, fired up Republicans.
Before McCain got up to talk, the convention loudly voted to officially make Palin its vice presidential candidate.
As was the case the first three days of the convention, much of the attention was focused on Palin, the first female GOP vice presidential candidate.
"I'm very proud to have introduced our next vice president to the country," McCain said. "But I can't wait until I introduce her to Washington. And let me offer an advance warning to the old, big spending, do nothing, me-first, country-second Washington crowd - change is coming."
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a national McCain campaign co-chairman, emphasized McCain's character during a brief speech.
"Barack Obama gives a good speech," Pawlenty said. "But the best sermons aren't preached, they're lived.
"John McCain's whole life is a testimony to service, duty, courage and common sense. John McCain has walked the walk, and he has always put our country first"
Pawlenty finished No. 2 to Palin in the vice presidential contest.
McCain's trip to the presidential election dates back years. He lost to eventual winner George W. Bush in 2000, but earned a national reputation for being a political maverick, even bucking his own party at times.
This year, Democrats have criticized him as losing some of those maverick qualities, but supporters say his Palin pick proves he remains individualistic. She has a reputation similar to McCain after beating a fellow Republican to win the governorship.
While Republican delegates in St. Paul loved Palin's address Wednesday night, on Thursday Obama said he did not like what he has heard from Palin and the convention.
"Over the last two nights, if you sit there and you watch it, you're hearing a lot about John McCain - and he's got a compelling biography as a POW," Obama said.
He complained that Republicans have not talked about health care, creating apprenticeship programs, looking for alternative energy or ways to strengthen unions.
The best-known fact about McCain, who turned 72 a week ago today, is the five and a half years he spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. That story has been retold time and again during the four-day convention as part of Republicans' feeling that service to country is important.
"I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's," McCain said. "I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency; for its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again. I wasn't my own man anymore. I was my country's."
McCain added: "I was blessed by misfortune."
McCain served 22 years in the Navy.
He is in his 26th year in the Senate, following time in the House and 22 years in the Navy.
He is on his second marriage, and has seven children and four grandchildren.
In the Senate, he has become known as someone who goes his own way, at times going against Republican leaders' wishes. An example he often likes to mention is when he worked with liberal Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold on campaign reform.
Right after the convention ended, McCain and Palin launched a campaign tour to Wisconsin and Michigan, two states where McCain and Obama are in a tight fight.
McCain's wife, Cindy, warmed up the GOP audience - covered with "we love Cindy" signs -- before her husband took the stage, saying Americans have a duty to serve their country.
"That duty is what brings me before you tonight," she said. "And it's much larger and more important than John or me or any of us: It's the work of this great country calling us together -- and there is no greater duty than that, no more essential task for our generation -- right now."
Mrs. McCain, a sometimes race care driver, said her husband leads by example. Take, for instance, forgiveness.
"Forgiveness is not just a personal issue: It's why John led the effort to normalize relations with Vietnam retrieve the remains of our MIAs. to bring closure to both sides," she said. "That's leadership -- national leadership. And it's leading by example."
The would-be first lady also repeated the McCain campaign slogan of him bringing "straight talk" to Washington.
He is a man "who always speaks the truth no matter what the cost, a man of judgment and character, a loyal and loving and true husband and a magnificent father," she said.