John McCain accepts GOP nomination

September 5, 2008 9:12:10 AM PDT
Republican presidential nominee John McCain accepted his party's nomination Thursday night in a speech designed to recast the conservative party of President Bush and Karl Rove in his own maverick image. Early on, a small group of protesters in the hall disrupted McCain's speech holding a sign that read "McCain votes against vets." Two women wearing pick yelled "end the war!" and were dragged out of the hall by security.

Trying to drown out the protesters, the crowd began chanting "USA, USA!"

McCain urged the crowd to ignore the protesters.

"My friends, my friends," he said, trying to get the crowd's attention.

Launching into his speech, McCain emphasized his experience as a combat pilot, a prisoner of war in Vietnam, and his 26-year congressional career.

"I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's. I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency; for its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again. I wasn't my own man anymore. I was my country's," McCain said.

He touted his record of reform in Washington and plans to take on the status quo as president.

Painting himself as a fighter, McCain said, "I've fought corruption, and it didn't matter if the culprits were Democrats or Republicans. They violated their public trust, and had to be held accountable. I've fought big spenders in both parties, who waste your money on things you neither need nor want, while you struggle to buy groceries, fill your gas tank and make your mortgage payment. I've fought to get million dollar checks out of our elections. I've fought lobbyists who stole from Indian tribes. I fought crooked deals in the Pentagon. I fought tobacco companies and trial lawyers, drug companies and union bosses.

"I fought for the right strategy and more troops in Iraq, when it wasn't a popular thing to do. And when the pundits said my campaign was finished, I said I'd rather lose an election than see my country lose a war," McCain said.

He said, "I don't mind a good fight. For reasons known only to God, I've had quite a few tough ones in my life. But I learned an important lesson along the way. In the end, it matters less that you can fight. What you fight for is the real test."

McCain touched ever so briefly on foreign policy, the economy and energy independence, but the bulk of his speech was devoted to painting himself as a man of character with a record of agitating against the status quo of his party and congressional spending in Washington.

"You know, I've been called a maverick; someone who marches to the beat of his own drum. Sometimes it's meant as a compliment and sometimes it's not. What it really means is I understand who I work for. I don't work for a party. I don't work for a special interest. I don't work for myself. I work for you," McCain said.

The Republican nominee drew a contrast between himself and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, arguing he is best prepared to lead the nation.

He also made an appeal for bipartisanship and argue that throughout his life he has put his country first ahead of self-interest.

"Again and again, I've worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed," McCain will say. "That's how I will govern as President. 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."

McCain also touted his own judgment for choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential nominee.

"I'm very proud to have introduced our next vice president to the country. But I can't wait until I introduce her to Washington. And let me offer an advance warning to the old, big spending, do nothing, me first, country second Washington crowd: change is coming," McCain will say.

McCain, whose campaign was bankrupt and thought dead only a year ago, also reminded Americans of his rough road to the nomination.

"In my life, no success has come without a good fight, and this nomination wasn't any different. That's a tribute to the candidates who opposed me and their supporters. They're leaders of great ability, who love our country, and wished to lead it to better days. Their support is an honor I won't forget."

McCain, who clashed for years with the Bush administration for their handling of the war, tonight offered praise for the president and his father.

"I'm grateful to the President for leading us in those dark days following the worst attack on American soil in our history, and keeping us safe from another attack many thought was inevitable; and to the First Lady, Laura Bush, a model of grace and kindness in public and in private. And I'm grateful to the 41st President and his bride of 63 years, and for their outstanding example of honorable service to our country," McCain said.

The Republican nominee also offered praise to Obama and his supporters, saying "I wouldn't be an American worthy of the name if I didn't honor Senator Obama and his supporters for their achievement."

But then McCain said, "let there be no doubt, my friends, we're going to win this election. And after we've won, we're going to reach out our hand to any willing patriot, make this government start working for you again, and get this country back on the road to prosperity and peace."

McCain argued al Qaeda, Iran, and Russia represent a threat to the nation's security.

"We have dealt a serious blow to al Qaeda in recent years," he said. "But they are not defeated, and they'll strike us again if they can. Iran remains the chief state sponsor of terrorism and on the path to acquiring nuclear weapons. Russia's leaders, rich with oil wealth and corrupt with power, have rejected democratic ideals and the obligations of a responsible power."

McCain said, "We face many threats in this dangerous world, but I'm not afraid of them. I'm prepared for them. I know how the military works, what it can do, what it can do better, and what it should not do. I know how the world works. I know the good and the evil in it. I know how to work with leaders who share our dreams of a freer, safer and more prosperous world, and how to stand up to those who don't. I know how to secure the peace."

During Thursday's program, the Republican National Committee showed a video about the Sept. 11th terror attacks that included images of Osama bin Laden and the aftermath of the attacks, ending with old aerial footage of the World Trade Center towers still standing.

"It will never happen again," said the video's narrator over the images, as the crowd applauded, cheeing, "USA! USA!"

Watching the program from the VIP seats was former Nixon administration national security advisor and secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who advised President Bush on the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

Anti-war protesters marched for a fourth night Thursday outside the Xcel Center as McCain delivered his acceptance speech. Police arrested hundreds of people and fired tear gas and flash bangs at protesters trying to break up the crowds.

Republican Convention Rebounds After Rocky Start

McCain's nomination acceptance speech ends a Republican convention that got off to an unusual start when Hurricane Gustav blew away plans for a week of partisan choreography.

But conservatives opposed to abortion quickly became galvanized when vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin disclosed that her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant, keeping the baby and intends to marry the 18-year-old father.

Palin delivered a well-received speech Wednesday, watched by 37-million people, in which she introduced herself as the ultimate "hockey mom" Washington outsider.

While the speech was short on policy details, it was highly successful in rousing the conservative base with a skewering of the Obama "change" mantra, an attack on the media and an echoing of McCain's reformer principles.

One longtime Senate colleague of McCain's predicted he wouldn't be able to hold a candle to Palin's performance.

"Look, John is not a great orator," former Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott, who often clashed with McCain as Senate majority leader, told ABC News.

"I just don't think he can top her. ... They won't be comparable," Lott said of McCain.

However McCain got big reactions from the crowd during his speech. Another wave of cheers and applause went up when Palin joined him on stage after his speech, standing with both of their families.

"When he started to tell his story in Hanoi and then ended with that ringing call to service, you could see the passion flowing through John McCain's veins," ABC News' chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos told ABC's Charlie Gibson.

Maine delegate Dawn Gilbert, 65, a hair stylist, gave McCain high marks.

She said the speech was "the best John McCain's ever delivered, I'll tell you that!" She said, dancing with fellow delegates and swatting red, white, and blue balloons as they fell from the ceiling.

McCain Accepts Nomination After Palin Takes Spotlight

Early on Thursday longtime Senate colleagues characterized McCain as an American hero.

"John McCain is the real McCoy. He's been around a long time, he's suffered for this country," Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch told ABC News. "When you consider he can't even lift his arms above his shoulders and yet he keeps plodding ahead."

On Thursday afternoon McCain visited the Xcel Center stage.

McCain appeared on stage with a few family members -- his wife, Cindy, sons Jack and Jimmy and a bevy of advisers including Salter, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis, independent and former Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Lieberman and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

"I think this is Lindsey Graham's speech, one of the worst speeches ever written," McCain joked when practicing on the teleprompter.

Tonight, Graham reminded the crowd how the Bush administration took McCain's advice to send more troops into Iraq in 2007 to quel the violence there -- the so-called troop "surge."

"Calling for more troops to be sent to Iraq was one of the most unpopular things John McCain could have done," Graham said. "Some said it was political suicide. But you know what? It was the right thing to do. Because losing in Iraq would have been a nightmare for America. Al' Qaeda would have claimed victory over our nation. Sectarian violence would spread throughout the region. And Iran would fill the vacuum."

Slamming Obama who has long advocated withdrawing troops from Iraq, Graham said, "We know the surge has worked. Our men and women in uniform know it has worked. I promise you -- above all others -- Al Qaeda knows it has worked. The only people who deny it are Barack Obama and his buddies at MoveOn.org. Why won't they admit it? Because Barack Obama's campaign is built around us losing in Iraq. Without John McCain's courageous leadership there would be no surge."

Graham said, "Not once was Barack Obama's eloquent voice ever raised in support of Victory in Iraq. Not once was it used to rally our troops in battle. Instead, he inspired those who supported retreat and would have accepted our defeat. 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. Our troops deserve a Commander in Chief who acknowledges their success."

During tonight's program, Cindy McCain introduced on stage all of her husband's seven children, and touted McCain as ready to lead.

"It's going to take someone of unusual strength and character - someone exactly like my husband - to lead us through the reefs and currents that lie ahead. I know John. You can trust his hand at the wheel," Cindy McCain said.

She also reminded the crowd her husband was captured in Vietnam in 1967 and held as a prisoner of war until 1973 where he was denied medical treatment and experienced torture.

"Forgiveness is not just a personal issue: it's why John led the effort to normalize relations with Vietnam retrieve the remains of our MIAs ... to bring closure to both sides. That's leadership - national leadership. And it's leading by example," Cindy McCain said.

She also remarked on Palin's speech Wednesday sending the crowd into a round of applause and cheers.

"John has picked a reform-minded, hockey-mommin', basketball shootin', moose huntin', fly-fishin', pistol-packing, mother of five for vice president," Cindy McCain said. "And as a fellow hockey mom myself and a western conservative mother, I couldn't be prouder that John has shaken things up as he usually does!"

McCain Takes Town-Hall Style to Republican Convention

McCain, who describes himself as most comfortable in town-hall style meetings, delivered his speech on the end of a stage that reaches into the audience.

The blue lectern at the end of the runway stage, resembled the wooden "Falcon" lectern introduced during Bush's administration.

He was surrounded by delegates from swing states including Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Mexico, Virginia and Colorado.

On stage the Republicans have sought to feature a diverse array of speakers including GOPAC chair Michael Steele, who is black. However the delegates inside the convention hall have been a sea of white faces.

Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, a Cuban native and former Republican National Committee chairman, admitted the party needs to do more to attract minorities to the GOP.

"I think the Republican Party still has challenges in terms of how inclusive the core of the party is," Martinez told ABC News. But, he said, efforts are under way to hold on to inroads the party made with Hispanic voters in 2004.

Republicans Hope McCain Can Reach Out to Hispanics

While Hispanics turned out and voted in large numbers for Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton during the primaries, Republicans see an opportunity to gain their support now that she isn't on the ticket.

"I think that Sen. McCain has a huge opportunity with Hispanic voters," Martinez said, "He's already well ahead in the polls among Hispanics in Florida so we need to pass that message on to the rest of the country."

Thursday's program also featured speeches by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who was slashed from the vice presidential short list; former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, and Joe Gibbs, former coach of the Washington Redskins.

A tribute video to Palin narrated by actor John Voight that was supposed to play Wednesday night but got cut for time ran Thursday night. There will also be videos about the life of Cindy and John McCain.

A roll call vote officially named Palin as the party's vice presidential nominee, making her the GOP's first female candidate for the nation's second highest political office.

The Republican ticket now set, the party faithful said they felt good about the general election.

Gilbert said she intends to "campaign like I've never campaigned before," adding, Palin is "the most impressivew woman I've seen in politics."

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