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Published: Friday, 9/5/2008

I'm ready to lead, McCain says; Republican nominee maintains he knows how to secure peace

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

ST. PAUL John McCain set out last night to make his case to a nation at war and in economic distress that it must not blindly place its trust in the change offered by Barack Obama when it has a proven fighter for change right in front of them.

And he urged Americans to fight along with him.

We face many threats in this dangerous world, but I m not afraid of them. I m prepared for them, he told the party faithful in the Xcel Energy Center.

I know how the military works, what it can do, what it can do better, and what it should not do, he said.

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, he said.

I know how to secure the peace.

When interrupted by anti-war protesters who d found their way into the Xcel Energy Center despite tight security, Mr. McCain won cheers when he told the crowd, Please don t be diverted by the ground noise and the static.

He sought to reinforce the image presented over four days of videos and speeches of John McCain the maverick, reformer, and hero ready to do battle with terrorists, an entrenched Washington culture, pork-barrel spending, and even his own party when it has lost its way.

And he claims to have found a kindred spirit in Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the GOP s first female vice presidential nominee in history.

Let me offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second Washington crowd, he said. Change is coming.

And he sought to remake the Republican Party in his image.

We were elected to change Washington, and we let Washington change us, he said. We lost the trust of the American people when some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption.

We re going to change that, he said. 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.

He did emphasize the more than two decades he has spent in Washington and talked little about the Republican administration that has held the White House the past eight years.

Even though on Wednesday night Republican after Republican criticized and mocked Mr. Obama, Mr. McCain went out of his way, twice, to tell the convention that he respected and admired his Democratic opponent.

At 72, Mr. McCain would be the oldest man to ever assume the presidency, and he presented his experience as a fighter pilot, prisoner-of-war, and 26 years in Congress in contrast to Mr. Obama s comparable youth, at 46, and short tenure in Washington.

He gave a nod to the Democratic nominee s accomplishments, but then set out to contrast his plans.

Mr. McCain vowed to make President Bush s tax cuts permanent and cut others where I can, while saying that Mr. Obama would raise taxes. He vowed to end the country s dependence on foreign oil.

We are going to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don t like us very much, he said. We will attack the problem on every front. We will produce more energy at home. We will drill new wells offshore, and we ll drill them now.

That set the crowd into a chorus of Drill, baby, drill!

We will build more nuclear power plants, he said. We will develop clean coal technology. We will increase the use of wind, tide, solar, and natural gas. We will encourage the development and use of flex fuel, hybrid, and electric automobiles.

Senator Obama thinks we can achieve energy independence without more drilling and without more nuclear power. But Americans know better than that, he said.

And he said he is better prepared to reach across the partisan aisle to get the job done than his younger Senate colleague.

Again and again, I ve worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed, he said. 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. Senator Obama does not.

Mr. Obama s former rival, Hillary Clinton, came to his defense last night.

After listening to all the speeches this week, I heard nothing that suggests the Republicans are ready to fix the economy for middle-class families, provide quality, affordable health care for all Americans, guarantee equal pay for equal work for women, restore our nation s leadership in a complex world, or tackle the myriad of challenges our country faces, she said.

So, to slightly amend my comments from Denver: No way, no how, no McCain-Palin.

Last night, Mr. McCain described feeling blessed as he was saved by other prisoners of war in Vietnam, something that he said changed him forever.

My country saved me, he said. My country saved me, and I cannot forget it. And I will fight for her for as long as I draw breath, so help me God.

Speeches and videos on the final night of the convention served as frequent reminders of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington and the war in Iraq, using words such as dangerous and perilous times to make the point that now is not the time to gamble on leadership.

Cindy McCain told the crowd that her husband is the right man for this mission.

These are perilous times, not just for America, but for freedom itself, she said. 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, she said. You can trust his hand at the wheel. But you know what, I ve always thought it s a good idea to have a woman s hand on the wheel as well.

This was a reference to Mr. McCain s selection of running mate Ms. Palin, a woman Ms. McCain characterized as a reform-minded, hockey-mommin, basketball-shootin, moose-huntin, fly-fishin, pistol-packing mother of five.

References to her drew some of the strongest reactions from the crowd.

For last night s speech, the wide stage from the night before was replaced with a narrow version that allowed Mr. McCain to be surrounded by delegates on three sides that more closely resembled the town-hall forums with which he has appeared more comfortable on the campaign trail.

Battleground state Ohio previously had front-and-center seats. But the state that decided the 2004 election still had some of the best seats in the house, flanking Mr. McCain to his right and left where they shouted O.H. I.O. to each other over the stage.

Even though the support has galvanized now, he is still himself, an independent Republican who takes on interests whether Republican, Democrat, big, little, whatever. He just does what he thinks is right, said former Cincinnati area congressman Rob Portman, once the subject of vice presidential speculation.

I think what you re going to see is a candidate who, if he is elected, will change the Republican Party, and make the Republican Party more the party of reform, more of a populist party, and a party that focuses more on bold changes, he said.

Michigan delegate Dennis Butler said the attention turned back to Mr. McCain last night after the Palin-centered excitement the previous 24 hours.

After tonight and then the debates on Sept. 26, it will be back to Obama and McCain, Mr. Butler, of Detroit, said.

Michael Murry, an Ohio delegate and 2003 University of Toledo graduate, said Mr. McCain s speech last night would compel a lot of undecided voters to vote for the McCain-Palin ticket.

I think he is right about energy, gas prices are obviously part of that, and security just keeping us safe, Mr. Murry said.

Staff Writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this article.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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