ST. PAUL, Minn., Sept. 5, 2008 -- Republican presidential nominee John McCain accepted his party's nomination Thursday night in a speech designed to recast the conservative party of President Bush and Karl Rove into his own maverick image.
The Republican presidential nominee and former fighter pilot used his grueling experience as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War to emphasize his toughness and his qualifications to lead the country.
"I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's. I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency; for its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. 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 said.
Now that McCain and Democrat Barack Obama have both accepted their parties' nominations and their conventions are over, the two presidential contenders will battle for the upperhand on every one of the 60 days left for campaigning.
WATCH SEN. BARACK OBAMA THIS SUNDAY ON "THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS" AT 9 A.M. ET On the day after McCain officially became the GOP nominee, there was ammunition for both sides in an ABC News poll on the vice presidential candidates. The survey was taken after McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, gave a rousing speech to the Republican National Convention Wednesday night.
The relatively unknown Palin made a good first impression with 50 percent of those polled having a favorable opinion of her. But only 42 percent believed she had the necessary experience to be vice president. On the Democratic side, 66 percent believed Obama's running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, had the right experience to be a VP.
Palin's widely viewed convention speech has been credited with galvanizing the Republican base, but it has apparently revved up the Democrats as well.
The Obama campaign reports that in the 24-hour period after Palin's speech it raised more than $10 million. That's a one-day record for the Obama campaign.
But on Thursday night, it was McCain's turn to rouse the faithful, and he appealed to the country by touting his record of taking on the status quo.
"I've fought corruption, and it didn't matter if the culprits were Democrats or Republicans. They violated their public trust, and had to be held accountable. I've fought big spenders in both parties, who waste your money on things you neither need nor want, while you struggle to buy groceries, fill your gas tank and make your mortgage payment."
"I fought for the right strategy, and more troops in Iraq, when it wasn't a popular thing to do," the Arizona senator continued. "And when the pundits said my campaign was finished, I said I'd rather lose an election than see my country lose a war."
McCain touched ever so briefly on foreign policy, the economy and energy independence, but the bulk of his speech was devoted to painting himself as a man of character with a record of agitating against the status quo of his party and congressional spending in Washington.
"You know, I've been called a maverick; someone who marches to the beat of his own drum. Sometimes it's meant as a compliment and sometimes it's not. What it really means is I understand who I work for. I don't work for a party. I don't work for a special interest. I don't work for myself. I work for you," McCain said.
McCain Casts Career as Fighter, Takes Shots at Obama
The Republican nominee drew a contrast between himself and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, arguing he is best prepared to lead the nation.
McCain offered praise for Obama's achievement in attaining the Democratic presidential nod but the pleasantries were brief.
"Again and again, I've worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed," said McCain. "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."
In another thinly veiled shot across the bow at his Democratic rival, McCain said, "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."
The Obama campaign took issue with McCain's address.
"He admonished the 'old, do-nothing crowd' in Washington but ignored the fact that he's been part of that crowd for 26 years, opposing solutions on health care, energy and education," Obama campaign Bill Burton said in a statement released to the press following McCain's speech.
"He talked about bipartisanship but didn't mention that he's been a Bush partisan 90 percent of the time, that he's run a Karl Rove campaign, and that he wants to continue this president's disastrous economic and foreign policies for another four years. With John McCain, it's more of the same," Burton concluded.
McCain Touts VP Pick Sarah Palin
McCain also touted his own judgment for choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate.
"I'm very proud to have introduced our next vice president to the country. But I can't wait until I introduce her to Washington. And let me offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second Washington crowd: Change is coming," McCain said.
McCain, whose campaign was bankrupt and believed dead only a year ago, also reminded Americans of his rough road to the nomination.
"In my life, no success has come without a good fight, and this nomination wasn't any different. That's a tribute to the candidates who opposed me and their supporters. They're leaders of great ability, who love our country and wished to lead it to better days. Their support is an honor I won't forget."
McCain, who clashed for years with the Bush administration for its handling of the war, offered praise for the current president and his father.
"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; and to the first lady, Laura Bush, a model of grace and kindness in public and in private. And I'm grateful to the 41st president and his bride of 63 years, and for their outstanding example of honorable service to our country," McCain said.
McCain Eyes Threat, Presents National Security Challenge
McCain, who has highlighted his experience in his bid for the White House, made national security a consistent theme of his address.
"We have dealt a serious blow to al Qaeda in recent years," he said, "But they are not defeated, and they'll strike us again if they can. Iran remains the chief state sponsor of terrorism and on the path to acquiring nuclear weapons. Russia's leaders, rich with oil wealth and corrupt with power, have rejected democratic ideals and the obligations of a responsible power."
McCain said, "We face many threats in this dangerous world, but I'm not afraid of them. I'm prepared for them. I know how the military works, what it can do, what it can do better, and what it should not do. I know how the world works. I know the good and the evil in it. I know how to work with leaders who share our dreams of a freer, safer and more prosperous world, and how to stand up to those who don't. I know how to secure the peace."
During Thursday's program, the Republican National Committee showed a video about the Sept. 11 terror attacks that included images of Osama bin Laden and the aftermath of the attacks, ending with old aerial footage of the World Trade Center towers still standing.
"It will never happen again," said the video's narrator over the images, as the crowd applauded, cheeing "USA! USA!"
Watching the program from the VIP seats was former Nixon administration national security adviser and secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who advised President Bush on the U.S.-led war on Iraq.
Anti-war protesters marched for a fourth night Thursday outside the Xcel Center as McCain delivered his acceptance speech.
Police arrested hundreds of people and fired tear gas and flash bangs at protesters trying to break up the crowds.
Republican Convention Rebounds After Rocky Start
McCain's nomination acceptance speech ends a Republican convention that got off to an unusual start when Hurricane Gustav blew away plans for a week of partisan choreography.
But conservatives opposed to abortion quickly became galvanized when vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin disclosed that her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant, keeping the baby and intends to marry the 18-year-old father.
Palin delivered a well-received speech Wednesday, watched by 37 million people, in which she introduced herself as the ultimate "hockey mom" Washington outsider.
While the speech was short on policy details, it was highly successful in rousing the conservative base with a skewering of the Obama "change" mantra, an attack on the media and an echoing of McCain's reformist principles.
One longtime Senate colleague of McCain's predicted he wouldn't be able to hold a candle to Palin's performance.
"Look, John is not a great orator," former Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott, who often clashed with McCain as Senate majority leader, told ABC News.
"I just don't think he can top her. ... They won't be comparable," Lott said of McCain.
McCain, however, got big reactions from the crowd during his speech. Another wave of cheers and applause went up when Palin joined him onstage after his speech, standing with both of their families.
"When he started to tell his story in Hanoi and then ended with that ringing call to service, you could see the passion flowing through John McCain's veins," ABC News' chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos told ABC's Charlie Gibson.
Dawn Gilbert, 65, a Republican delegate from Maine gave McCain high marks.
"The best John McCain's ever delivered, I'll tell you that!" she said, dancing with fellow delegates and swatting red, white and blue balloons as they fell from the ceiling.
McCain's Undercard Delivers Sharp Blows Against Obama
Before McCain took the stage for the keynote address, several Republican colleagues fired up the crowd with red meat speeches, sharply leveling criticism at the Democratic ticket.
Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., a longtime McCain supporter, reminded the crowd of McCain's support for the troop surge strategy in Iraq.
"Calling for more troops to be sent to Iraq was one of the most unpopular things John McCain could have done," Graham said. "Some said it was political suicide. But you know what? It was the right thing to do. Because losing in Iraq would have been a nightmare for America."
Slamming Obama, Graham added, "We know the surge has worked. Our men and women in uniform know it has worked. I promise you -- above all others -- al Qaeda knows it has worked. The only people who deny it are Barack Obama and his buddies at MoveOn.org. Why won't they admit it? Because Barack Obama's campaign is built around us losing in Iraq."
The penultimate address featured Cindy McCain, who introduced each of the McCain's seven children, before delivering a speech in support of her husband that was devoid of the biographical details that marked her counterpart Michelle Obama's speech to the Democratic Convention last week.
"It's going to take someone of unusual strength and character -- someone exactly like my husband -- to lead us through the reefs and currents that lie ahead. I know John. You can trust his hand at the wheel," Cindy McCain said.
She reminded the crowd her husband was captured in Vietnam in 1967 and held as a prisoner of war until 1973 where he was denied medical treatment and experienced torture.
"Forgiveness is not just a personal issue: It's why John led the effort to normalize relations with Vietnam retrieve the remains of our MIAs ... to bring closure to both sides. That's leadership -- national leadership. And it's leading by example," Cindy McCain said.
She also remarked on Palin's speech Wednesday, sending the crowd into a round of applause and cheers.
"John has picked a reform-minded, hockey-mommin', basketball shootin', moose huntin', fly-fishin', pistol-packing mother of five for vice president," Cindy McCain said. "And as a fellow hockey mom myself and a western conservative mother, I couldn't be prouder that John has shaken things up as he usually does!"
McCain and Palin will take their show on the road, traveling to battleground Wisconsin and several other key states over the weekend, kicking off a fast and frenzied final two months before election day.
ABC News' Ann Compton, Nitya Venkataraman, Jen Duck, Bret Hovell, Karen Travers and David Wright contributed to this report.