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He also deployed what has become a familiar story for him - that of Mike Christian, a fellow prisoner of war in a North Vietnamese camp who sewed an American flag into his shirts, which the men used daily to say the Pledge of Allegiance. The day the flag was discovered, Mr. Christian was severely beaten, but that night, “with his eyes almost shut from his beating, “he was back sewing another flag into a shirt.

Four years later, Mr. McCain spoke of then-President Bush having served during World War II as a Navy aviator and having “a near brush with death” facing enemy fire over the Pacific.

In 1996, he again found a military theme in his speech officially placing Sen. Bob Dole’s nomination before the convention: “Bob went to war for his country’s sake and returned to rebuild himself from his near-fatal wounds. The courage and determination he brought to his recovery are the stuff that legends are made of.”

In 2000, when then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s record deprived Mr. McCain of the chance to endorse someone with war service, he spoke instead of family service, hearkening back to the senior Bush.

“Many years ago, the governor’s father served in the Pacific, with distinction, under the command of my grandfather. Now it is my turn to serve under the son of my grandfather’s brave subordinate,” he said to a convention that included many delegates Mr. McCain himself had won in the bruising 2000 primary.

In 2004, with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks a dominant issue and the war in Iraq raging, Mr. McCain again found a war theme, praising the Democratic candidate, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry but saying his own faith in Mr. Bush from four years earlier had been well-placed.

“He has been tested and has risen to the most important challenge of our time, and I salute him,” Mr. McCain said.

Mr. Bush’s own acceptance speech in 2004, which was highly praised, showed the power of such a set piece. Even with declining television ratings for modern conventions, convention addresses provide a rare chance for unadulterated access to American voters, free from the distractions of debates.

In early August, the Arizona Republic suggested Mr. McCain should forgo the traditional podium speech and mix it up with the crowd, similar to Elizabeth Dole’s performance during the 1996 convention when her husband was nominated.

Mr. McCain does perform well in those situations, but usually when he’s taking questions and having a back-and-forth exchange with the audience. A convention speech just doesn’t lend itself to audience participation.

Mr. Salter said he doubted Mr. McCain would deliver his speech walking through the audience.