MINNESOTA, September 5 – John McCain Thursday vowed to fight for America as long as he draws breath, promising to unleash a torrent of political change as he accepted the Republican White House nomination.
The 72-year-old former war hero and free spirit senator offered himself as a warrior to fight one final battle for his country, arguing a character forged in extremity gave him the judgement and vision to lead from the White House.
"I don’t mind a good fight," said McCain, who appeared on stage in a white spotlight following a video extolling his heroic story as a Vietnam War prisoner, "a man who found his strength in a tiny dank cell miles from home."
"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," said McCain, who will clash with Democrat Barack Obama for the White House in November.
McCain, who has a reputation of bucking his party’s orthodoxy, promised he and vice presidential running mate Sarah Palin would shatter the political gridlock in Washington.
"Let me offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second Washington crowd: change is coming," McCain said, adding he was honoured to accept the party’s nomination.
In a stark contrast to Obama’s spectacular convention finale in an open-air football stadium in Denver last week, McCain stood alone, on a simple stage stretching out into seated Republican delegates.
His speech was punctuated by standing ovations for him, and boos as McCain singled out Democratic policies, but there was none of the euphoria which greeted Palin, the new conservative heroine, on Wednesday.
At times, McCain spoke quietly, and sometimes his words were drowned out by the cheers of the crowd. One of the biggest cheers of the night came when Palin came on stage to join him at the end of his speech.
The primetime convention speech watched on television by millions of Americans was briefly interrupted by several anti-war protestors who had sneaked into the crowd.
One held up a black sign reading "You can’t win an occupation," and started chanting, but was quickly drowned out by the crowd cheering "USA, USA," and then hustled away by security staff.
McCain touted what he said were decades of working across the political aisle to solve problems, contrasting his record with that of Democratic nominee Barack Obama whom he faces in November’s election.
"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 argued that his heroism in Vietnam had forged the kind of leadership qualities that America needed.
"I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s," McCain said.
"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 is attempting to co-opt Obama’s mantle of change in a year in which polls show Americans overwhelmingly think their country is heading in the wrong direction.
He spoke movingly of the day in 1967 when his navy jet was shot down over Vietnam, and how his character was forged through years of personal anguish.
"I’m not running for president because I think I’m blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save our country in its hour of need," McCain said in a clear swipe against Obama.
"My country saved me. 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."
As Obama tries to brand McCain as simply offering four more years of the "failed" policies of George W. Bush, the Arizona senator paid pointed tribute to the president’s national security leadership.
"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," he said.
McCain also attempted to make a connection with everyday Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, with the economy the number one issue in the election.
"I know some of you have been left behind in the changing economy and it often seems your government hasn’t even noticed," McCain said.
"My opponent promises to bring back old jobs by wishing away the global economy. We’re going to help workers, who’ve lost a job that won’t come back, find a new one that won’t go away.