Sen. John McCain, the former prisoner of war whose bid for the White House appeared in complete collapse just one year ago, accepted the Republican presidential nomination on Thursday with a pledge to move the nation beyond “partisan rancor” and narrow self-interest. His speech came at the end of a convention marked by some blistering attacks on his opponent, Sen. Barack Obama.
Standing in the center of an arena here, surrounded by thousands of cheering Republican delegates, McCain firmly signaled that he intended to seize the mantle of change Obama claimed in his own unlikely bid for his party’s nomination.
McCain suggested that his choice of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate gave him the license to run as an outsider against Washington, even though McCain has served in Congress for more than 25 years.
“Let me offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first-country-second Washington crowd: Change is coming,” McCain said in remarks prepared for delivery.
With his speech, McCain laid out the broad outlines of his general election campaign. He sought to move from a convention marked by an intense effort to reassure the party base to an appeal to a broader general election electorate that polling suggests has turned sharply on Republicans and President Bush.
To that end, McCain returned to what has been his signature theme as a presidential candidate, including in his unsuccessful 2000 campaign: that he is a politician prepared to defy his own party.
“The constant partisan rancor that stops us from solving these problems isn’t a cause, it’s a symptom,” he said. “It’s what happens when people go to Washington to work for themselves and not you. Again and again, I’ve worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed. That’s how I will govern as president.”
McCain defined bipartisanship as not only working with the opposite party but being prepared to work against his own party, even though he is aligned with Bush on two of the biggest issues facing the country: the Iraq war and the economy. That pledge of political independence and bipartisanship could prove especially valuable at a time when Republican party is so unpopular.
It also permitted him to reprise what has been a central line of attack against Obama, the Democratic nominee, at a convention whose motto is “country first”: that his opponent has put his political interests ahead of those of those of the country.
“I will reach out my hand to anyone to help me get this country moving again,” McCain said. “I have that record and the scars to prove it. Sen. Obama does not.”
He invoked a word — maverick — that has sought to associate himself with over the years.
“You know, I’ve been called a maverick, someone who marches to the beat of his own drum,” he said. “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.”