New stage set for McCain speech

John McCain, who resurrected his campaign from a near-collapse a year ago to capture the GOP presidential nomination, will address his party's convention Thursday night in a setting markedly different from that of his Democratic challenger, Barack Obama.

McCain, the 72-year-old former Vietnam prisoner of war and longtime Arizona senator, will close the Republican National Convention here Thursday with his acceptance address. One week after Obama's dramatic acceptance speech to a football stadium full of supporters, the McCain campaign has chosen a far more intimate tack.

The convention's stage and podium have been reconfigured to create the "town hall" atmosphere McCain used so successfully in the primary season. The stage brings the crowd closer to McCain in what campaign manager Rick Davis called a "symbolic and practical" measure.

"His strength is in more of an intimate setting, a more conversational setting in tone," Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, national co-chair of the McCain campaign, told USA TODAY.

McCain checked out the setup in midafternoon, chatting on stage with his wife, Cindy, and Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

The senator will "call on the entire political culture in Washington to start putting their country first," Salter said, echoing one of the main themes of the convention.

McCain has stressed his experience over Obama, a freshman senator. McCain, a 22-year-veteran of the Senate, first sought the presidency in 2000 and was defeated that year by George W. Bush in the GOP primaries.

Obama's message of change "does not ring true," Pawlenty said, calling the Illinois senator a strong partisan with little record of stepping away from the party orthodoxy. McCain, on the other hand, has a clear record of independence, Pawlenty said.

Cindy McCain will not introduce her husband, as first lady Laura Bush did for President Bush's video address on Monday. Instead, Davis said McCain's wife would talk about her humanitarian work around the world. A video will introduce the nominee before he speaks at about 10 p.m. ET.

She admitted that she was nervous about addressing delegates.

"I'd like people to know what makes me work and what makes me tick and who I am, what I'm all about and where I come from," she told ABC's Good Morning America. "I have an interesting story to tell as well in that it combines the two of us and makes us a couple and what we will represent."

She also told ABC "I don't agree" with McCain running mate Sarah Palin's opposition to abortion in cases of rape and incest, "but I do respect her for her views."

John McCain opposes most abortion rights, but has supported allowing abortions in cases of rape and incest. Palin's view that all abortions should be illegal has helped mollify social conservatives in the party who have had doubts about McCain because of his work with Democrats.

Other speakers tonight include Pawlenty and former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge — both considered finalists for the vice presidential slot eventually given to Palin.

The address comes one night after a well-received acceptance speech from Palin. Davis said the Alaska governor delivered a speech that immediately made her "a household name."

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