TAMPA, Fla. -- Sen. John McCain made a bittersweet return to the GOP convention stage, noting what could have been when he ran for president four years ago while giving a hearty endorsement of Mitt Romney.
"I had hopes once of addressing you under different circumstances, but our fellow Americans had different plans ... and I respect their decision," McCain said.
The Arizona senator remains a draw here in Tampa, but perhaps not the maverick rock star he once was in the new Tea Party-aligned GOP. He was received with applause.
McCain has been touring the country, fighting to stave off the Defense Department cuts coming in January as part of the debt deal Congress reached with President Obama. Few Republicans want to keep those planned reductions, but McCain has made saving the Pentagon a chief cause -- and one he plugged on Wednesday as he criticized Obama for not yielding on the cuts.
"The president is playing no leadership role in preventing this crippling blow to our military," he said.
The senator, who was celebrating his birthday, still rises above many of his peers as an influential voice in the party, and from the stage he gave a full-throated endorsement of Romney.
"For four years, we have drifted away," he said. As he travels the country, McCain said, he sometimes meets people from other countries. "People don't want less of America, they want more," he said. "What they want to know is, whether we still have faith."
"Mitt Romney has that faith," he said, “and I trust him to lead us."