MINNESOTA, September 3 – Republicans sought to re-energize their White House campaign, as President George W. Bush threw his weight behind John McCain pledging he was "ready to lead this nation."
After losing precious time ahead of the November 4 elections due to Hurricane Gustav, Republicans stormed back into the White House race aiming to recapture the limelight from Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
Bush, whose popularity has plummeted to near record lows, said McCain, 72, and his surprise vice presidential pick Sarah Palin, 44, were the right ticket to lead the country.
"We live in a dangerous world. And we need a president who understands the lessons of September 11, 2001: That to protect America, we must stay on the offence, stop attacks before they happen, and not wait to be hit again. The man we need is John McCain," said Bush.
But Bush, who has stood in the Oval Office for eight years and took the country into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, only appeared in a short recorded video to the convention, leaving his wife, Laura, to bid farewell.
The Obama campaign has charged that Bush is merely passing the torch to a candidate who would offer four more years of the same "disastrous" policies, trying to shackle McCain to the president’s unpopular programs.
Polls suggest that Obama won a significant bounce after his historic convention in Denver when he became the first African-American to be nominated as the presidential candidate for a major US party.
Republicans were in fighting mood though Tuesday as they pressed home the message of service and of "putting country first," paying tribute to soldiers who lost their life in recent wars, and honouring several of the prisoners-of-war who spent time in a Vietnamese camp with McCain.
Revelling in their past leaders, former president George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, won standing ovations from the audience in the St Paul, Minnesota, hockey stadium.
And Republican hero Ronald Reagan was also honoured in a video tribute, as the party tried to shift the focus away from Palin, McCain’s surprise choice for running-mate.
The Alaska governor, who is pro-life and a devout Christian, has energized the party’s core conservative base and is due to address the convention on Wednesday.
But she has lain low in St Paul since it emerged Tuesday that her unwed 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant, and would be marrying her baby’s father.
The scandal, accompanied by other revelations of an alleged abuse of power and Palin’s bid to nail down federal funds for pet Alaskan projects, has ignited a storm of criticism.
She was already under fierce scrutiny amid concerns that as someone with little national experience she was a reckless pick, as she would be next in line for the presidency should anything befall McCain.
Fred Thompson, a former Republican presidential candidate and star of hit television crime drama "Law & Order," electrified the crowd packed into the 20,000 seat Excel center, declaring that McCain was "the kind of character that civilizations from the beginning of history have sought in their leaders."
"Strength. Courage. Humility. Wisdom. Duty. Honor," Thompson said, insisting that McCain had stood up for the right policy in Iraq and that the United States was now winning the war.
"It’s pretty clear there are two questions we will never have to ask ourselves: ‘Who is this man?’ and ‘Can we trust this man with the presidency?’" he said.
But the Obama campaign hit back saying in a statement: "Tonight President Bush will pass the torch to the one candidate in this race who promises more of the same."
In a Gallup daily tracking poll on Tuesday, Obama was at 50 percent and McCain was at 42 percent of voters, the first time the Illinois Democrat had attracted fully half of the vote.