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McCain vows own kind of change

GOP nominee says he will look past party labels for the good of the nation.

September 05, 2008|Mark Z. Barabak | Times Staff Writer

ST. PAUL, MINN. — John McCain launched his final drive for the White House on Thursday night by stepping away from President Bush and toward the political center, vowing to forge a government focused on problem-solving rather than party labels.

"Instead of rejecting good ideas because we didn't think of them first, let's use the best ideas from both sides. Instead of fighting over who gets the credit, let's try sharing it," McCain said in an acceptance speech that stamped him as the new leader of the GOP. "We're going to finally start getting things done for the people who are counting on us, and I won't care who gets the credit."

The Arizona senator pledged to invite Democrats as well as independents into his administration, distancing himself from the approach of Bush, who typically counted on fellow Republicans to turn his policies into law.

"Again and again, I've worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed," McCain said to subdued applause on the final night of the Republican National Convention. "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. Sen. Obama does not."

The speech marked a transcendent moment that was unimaginable during the five years McCain spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Three and a half decades after walking free and 25 years after launching his political career as a congressman from Phoenix, McCain accepted the highest political prize his party offers.

The glancing mention of the Democratic presidential nominee, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, was typical of McCain's restrained tone and a contrast with the blistering speech that vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin had delivered a night earlier. Delegates who repeatedly leaped to their feet Wednesday sat stock-still during long periods when McCain spoke.

The most raucous scene came at the conclusion of McCain's 50-minute address, when his wife, Cindy; Palin; and her husband joined him onstage for the traditional rain of balloons and confetti and a cannonade of streamers fired inside the crowded sports arena.

Before McCain took the stage, delegates unanimously selected Alaska Gov. Palin, 44, as the party's vice presidential pick, making her the first woman to run on the Republican ticket. McCain was formally nominated late Wednesday night.

It is not easy for a party to win three straight terms in the White House. But in moving away from the incumbent administration Thursday night, McCain had to be careful not to upset the faithful who still hold Bush in high esteem. (A brief mention drew a short standing ovation.)

McCain navigated by directing his scorn not at the incumbent but at a perennial target of both parties: nameless, faceless obstructionists in Washington. "Let me offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second crowd," McCain said. "Change is coming."

He acknowledged widespread economic angst, something rarely discussed in the convention's three previous sessions.

"You're worried about keeping your job or finding a new one, and are struggling to put food on the table and stay in your home," McCain said. "All you ever asked of government is to stand on your side, not in your way. And that's just what I intend to do: stand on your side and fight for your future."

Some of his sharpest rhetoric was aimed at his own party. "We lost the trust of the American people when some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption," McCain said. "We lost their trust when rather than reform government, both parties made it bigger."

"We lost their trust when instead of freeing ourselves from a dangerous dependence on foreign oil, both parties and Sen. Obama passed another corporate welfare bill for oil companies," he went on, as delegates sat mostly silently. "We lost their trust when we valued our power over our principles. We're going to change that. We're going to recover the people's trust by standing up again for the values Americans admire. The party of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan is going to get back to basics."

Protesters interrupted McCain's speech several times at the beginning. The crowd shouted them down with chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!"

McCain leaves the Twin Cities with a party energized by the selection of Palin, who has proved a cash magnet for the campaign -- as well as for Obama's -- and a heroine to social conservatives chary of McCain and his commitment to their causes. McCain and Palin plan to campaign together over the next few days, starting today with a town hall session in Cedarburg, Wis.

Polls show a close race. But McCain still faces a number of hurdles -- a sagging economy, an unpopular war, fatigue with the incumbent administration -- that, by his own estimation, make him the underdog.

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