The Washington Times - September 2, 2008, 10:42PM

MINNEAPOLIS, MN | An important moment for John McCain at the Republican Convention just took place here, as fomer Sen. Fred Thompson told the story of Mr. McCain’s time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Some voters know about Mr. McCain’s POW experience, and some don’t, and the McCain campaign will run ads trying to tell this story to as many people as possible between now and November.

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But with a national prime time TV audience, Mr. Thompson went into detail about the torture that Mr. McCain experienced at the hands of Viet Cong soldiers, and how he refused to leave early despite the offer.

It’s a crucial part of the McCain bio that they need to get through to the majority of voters.

“John McCain’s character has been tested like no other candidate in the history of this country,” said Mr. Thompson, who also attacked Democratic nominee Barack Obama as “the most inexperienced candidate to ever run for the presidency.”

With 24 other former POW’s in the audience here at the Excel Energy Center, Mr. Thompson spoke of how Mr. McCain’s interrogators “stretched rope around his arms and painfully pulled back his arms.”

He told the convention also of how Mr. McCain, when pressed to cough up information about the names of fellow pilots, wrote down the names of the Green Bay Packers offensive line.

Then Mr. Thompson delivered the kicker.

“Now being a POW doesn’t qualify anyone to be president, but it does reveal character,” he said. “My friends, this is the kind of character that civilizations from the beginning of history have sought in their leaders.”

He said it brought up “two essential questions: who is this man, and can we trust this man with the presidency?”

This was one of the biggest applause lines of the night from a crowd that deeply believes Mr. Obama is not ready to be president.

Perhaps the night’s biggest applause line came on the issue of abortion, when Mr. Thompson said the country needs a president who doesn’t say “protecting the unborn … is above his pay grade.”

It was a bit of a distortion of Mr. Obama’s statement. Mr. Obama’s “pay grade” comment referred to determining when life begins in the womb. But the crowd responded louder to this than to anything else tonight so far.