- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2008

Always the bridesmaid, finally the bride.

John McCain” href=”/themes/?Theme=John+McCain” >Sen. John McCain is no stranger to presidential nominating conventions - or to convention speeches - having walked down the aisle, so to speak, to address the last five Republican gatherings and urge support for George+H.W.+Bush” >President George H.W. Bush in 1988 and 1992; for fellow Sen. Bob Dole, Kansas Republican, in 1996; and, the last two times, for the current president.

This time, however, it’s Mr. McCain himself who, accepting his party’s nomination, will be calling on others to stand up for him as he faces Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama. It’s a completely different challenge than he has had in the past, when he was soliciting support for someone else. This time, he HAS to make the case for himself.

“He has to make a central argument. That’s what every nominee does - it’s no different for him - that he’s the better choice,” said Mark Salter, Mr. McCain’s longtime aide. “He’ll hit all the themes that have been consistent with his career for years: putting his country first, service,… [that] everyone should serve a cause greater than themselves.”

William Benoit, a professor at the University of Missouri at Columbia who studies political communication, said a nominee’s challenge is to rally his own supporters and try to sway undecided voters.

His research has found that most acceptance speeches focus on the positive - from 1952 to 2004, the speeches consisted of an average of 77 percent positive statements. That sets them aside from other major set-piece campaign affairs, such as debates and television commercials, which are 57 percent and 59 percent positive, respectively.

Of course, the Republican undoubtedly will be compared with Mr. Obama, a master orator whose presidential campaign essentially began with a speech to the Democratic convention in 2004. Given that, Mr. McCain will start at a disadvantage - he has never been comfortable reading from a TelePrompter, while Mr. Obama can look lost without one.

However, Mr. McCain also has a longer legislative record, a dramatic personal story and a history with voters who have been able to evaluate him on more than just his speaking skills. That essentially means the bar is set lower when he takes the stage Thursday in St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center.

As for specifics, Mr. Salter said Mr. McCain will confront Mr. Obama’s “change” argument head-on and argue that he has the record that proves he’s a better agent of change than the Democrat.

One thorny issue will be how Mr. McCain handles President Bush, who is unpopular with most voters but remains strong among some core Republicans. Mr. Salter said to expect “an acknowledgement” of Mr. Bush during the speech, though the president already will have spoken and departed.

Mr. McCain has seen plenty of examples of such speeches firsthand, having been at every Republican convention since he was first elected to Congress, starting with the 1984 nomination of President Reagan for a second term in Dallas.

He didn’t have a speaking slot at the first convention, but he did get special recognition when he and then-Vice President George H.W. Bush spoke to the California delegation, according to the Arizona Republic’s account of the meeting.

“I’m going to be in trouble, because I know other members of Congress are here, but John McCain - we all know the inspiration that he gave our country,” the senior Mr. Bush said.

During that Dallas convention, Mr. McCain, then a congressman, seemed already to be laying the groundwork for something bigger. He made the rounds of about a half-dozen state delegations to offer his thoughts and rally voters for what would become a landslide re-election for Mr. Reagan.

By 1988, Mr. McCain was a senator and was a big enough star to be allowed to give a lengthy convention speech of his own, repaying the favor to Mr. Bush by praising the then-vice president and the outgoing president, Mr. Reagan.

Story Continues →