Continued from page 1

“My country saved me, and I cannot forget it. And I will fight for her for as long as I draw breath, so help me God.”

Mr. McCain pronounced education “the civil rights issue of this century,” and one of his biggest applause lines of the night was his promise to push for more school choice.

The loudest ovation might have come when he said he would appoint “judges who dispense justice impartially and don’t legislate from the bench.”

Where Mr. Obama spoke last week in front of a backdrop many likened to a Greek temple or the White House, Mr. McCain spoke on a stage that left him intimately surrounded by his audience and in front of a simple screen that changed colors.

And where Mr. Obama’s speech contained a series of barbs aimed at Mr. McCain’s judgment, Mr. McCain mentioned his adversary only a half-dozen times in contrasting their tax and energy policies.

Instead, Mr. McCain focused on fixing a party still suffering from a stinging defeat in the 2006 congressional elections and unsure of its path forward.

He had strong words, telling his party that corruption and overspending have cost the party Americans’ trust.

“We’re going to change that,” he said. “The party of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan is going to get back to basics.”

Mr. McCain briefly mentioned the man from whom he takes his party’s reins, President Bush, thanking him “for leading us in those dark days following the worst attack on American soil in our history.”

But unlike President Reagan and President Clinton, who turned over their parties to their own vice presidents at the end of two terms, Mr. McCain’s speech was far from a promise to continue Mr. Bush’s policies.

Instead, he promised to “make this government start working for you again, and get this country back on the road to prosperity and peace.”

Mr. McCain’s speech was the bookend to a week that, just a few days ago, appeared as though it could have been a washout. With Hurricane Gustav threatening the Gulf Coast, the convention’s first day was scrapped and speakers were juggled, throwing off the usually punctual Republicans.

But as Gustav faded, enthusiasm and anticipation built, particularly for Wednesday’s speech by Mrs. Palin.

The current level of Republican unity was unimaginable months ago, when Mr. McCain was still feuding with conservatives wary of his record opposing tax cuts, supporting citizenship for illegal immigrants and pushing for strict limits on campaign finance and interest group advocacy.

He won the nomination with fewer than half the votes cast nationwide, despite having the field to himself for the last three months, and his fundraising lagged for much of the year.

Story Continues →