- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2008

St. Paul, Minn., — John McCain formally laid claim to the Republican presidential nomination and his increasingly unified party Thursday night, telling the nation that the scars he earned in war and during years of Washington’s intense policy battles left him better-equipped than Democrat Barack Obama to silence “partisan rancor” and lead through turbulent times.

“Again and again, I’ve worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed. That’s how I will govern as president,” said the former Vietnam War prisoner of war, who walked alone onto a bare, backlit stage just minutes after the conclusion of the season’s National Football League opener.

“I will reach out my hand to anyone to help me get this country moving again. I have that record and the scars to prove it. Senator Obama does not.”

Exactly a week after Mr. Obama, a generation younger, wowed a stadium filled with fans in Denver, Mr. McCain offered Americans a markedly different option for change from the convention hall podium in Minneapolis.


Rather than youthful vigor, he offered experience and steely determination forged by five years of torture in a Vietnam prison and three decades of Washington’s legislative battles. Instead of soaring rhetoric, he offered plain-spoken promises. Instead of history in electing the first black president, he offered history in the first female vice president.

“The constant partisan rancor that stops us from solving [the nation’s] problems isn’t a cause, it’s a symptom. It’s what happens when people go to Washington to work for themselves and not you,” he said. He reached out to supporters of Democratic candidate Barack Obama, saying, “Much more unites us than divides us.”

“But let there be no doubt,” he added. “We are going to win this election. And after we have won, we are going to reach out our hand to any willing patriot” who will help to “get this country back on the road to prosperity and peace.”

Even as he spoke of uniting the country, the speech was interrupted by a protester dressed in pink pushing her way down the aisle. The woman was hustled out of the hall by a security aide.

“Don’t get distracted by the ground noise and static,” he ad-libbed. “Americans want us to stop yelling at each other.”

He also promised to work for peace abroad. Stressing the military service that has been a tradition in his own country, Mr. McCain said: “I am running for president to keep the country safe and to prevent others from risking their lives in war as my family has.”

He said he would use every means at his disposal, “diplomatic, economic, military and the power of our ideas to build the foundation for a stable and an enduring peace.”

Reprising the by now well-known story of his capture and imprisonment in Hanoi, he said the experience had made him a better man by introducing him to the company of the heros with whom he was kept in the Hanoi Hilton. Afterward that experience, “I wasn’t my own man any more; I was my country’s,” he said.

Mr. McCain tapped into one of the most popular themes of his campaign by promising to authorize offshore oil drilling and take numerous steps to develop alternative sources of energy.

“We are going to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don’t like us very much,” he said. “We are going drill new wells offshore and we are going to drill them now.”

The crowd responded with chants of “Drill, baby drill,” echoing an applause line from the previous night.

Burnishing his reputation as a maverick, Mr. McCain criticized his own party for the way it handled its majority in Congress after 2002. “We were elected to change Washington and we let Washington change us. … We lost [the people’s] trust when we valued our power over our principles. We are going to change that.”

He also touted his reputation as a reformer, promising to veto the first big pork barrel spending bill that comes across his desk as president. “We are not going to allow that while you struggle to buy groceries, fill your gas tank and pay your mortgage,” he said.

He added: “I won’t let you down.”

Some of the loudest applause was reserved for references to his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who electified the crowd with her acceptance speech the night before and helped the party to emerge from its four days in Minnesota unified and energized.

“I can’t wait until I introduce her to Washington,” he said of Mrs. Palin.

“And let me offer an advance warning to the old, big spending, do nothing, me first, country second Washington crowd: Change is coming.”

Mr. McCain’s wife, Cindy, introduced her husband as “a man tested and true.”

She called him a “loving and true husband and a magnificent father” whose time in Congress hasn’t changed him “a man who’s served in Washington without ever becoming a Washington insider.”

Mr. McCain’s speech also was the book end 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.

But Mr. McCain shook his campaign up early in July, elevating aide Steve Schmidt to handle day-to-day operations, and the campaign has gained its footing. The Obama campaign, meanwhile, has stumbled, including allowing his much-touted foreign trip to get bogged down in questions over why he canceled a visit with wounded U.S. troops.

Mr. Obama’s slide in the polls and a strong performance at a faith forum three weeks ago by Mr. McCain had begun to thaw the conservative base.

Mrs. Palin, Hurricane Sarah, as some pundits have taken to calling her, turned the heat way up. Her selection instantly galvanized the pro-life, gun-rights and fiscal conservative groups who make up the backbone of Republicans’ turnout operation.

Her audience extends beyond just the base: A reported 37.2 million viewers watched her address on cable and broadcast television networks, or 13 million more than watched her Democratic counterpart, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., last week, and only 1 million fewer than watched Mr. Obama accept his party’s nomination.

Democrats yesterday offered barbed compliments, with Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius saying she delivered the speech well but arguing that Mrs. Palin was just reading “words written by the Bush speechwriters.” Republicans said that was patronizing and insulting to Mrs. Palin by implying she was parroting someone else rather than saying what she believed.

The speech was apparently good for Democrats as well as Republicans. Mr. Obama’s campaign reported raising at least $8 million by midafternoon Thursday and was on track to raise $10 million in the 24 hours after Mrs. Palin spoke.

“Sarah Palin’s attacks have rallied our supporters in ways we never expected,” spokesman Bill Burton said. “And we fully expect John McCain’s attacks tonight to help us make our grass-roots organization even stronger.”

In a fundraising letter Thursday evening, Mr. Obama said the barbs from the stage at the Republican convention this week amounted to “attacking ordinary people,” and another fundraising letter from the campaign manager after Mrs. Palin’s speech accused her of having “lied about Barack Obama and Joe Biden.”

In Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain, the country is watching a debate between the most anti-Iraq war major candidate from the Democratic primaries and the staunchest pro-Iraq war candidate from the Republican primaries. And more than five years after it began, the war continued to dominate the sparring Thursday.

In an interview aired on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” during the Republican convention, Mr. Obama said the troop surge “has succeeded in ways nobody anticipated.”

“I’ve already said it’s succeeded beyond our wildest dreams,” he said.

The Republican National Committee said that means Mr. Obama was “on the wrong side of history” for opposing what he now acknowledges was a success, and Mr. McCain’s right-hand man, Sen. Lindsey Graham, said the war remains the central debate of the campaign.

“Barack Obama’s campaign is built around us losing in Iraq,” Mr. Graham told the convention. “We should all be grateful that Barack Obama was unable to defeat the surge. The surge was a test for Barack Obama. He failed miserably.”

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