The Republican presidential nomination his at last, John McCain makes his case for the presidency to the GOP convention and the nation after his surprise choice for vice president, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, energized delegates with a rousing speech.
Searing, at times sarcastic, but always smiling, Palin used her speech Wednesday night to cast the White House as the logical place for a man of McCain’s character. The 72-year-old began his national service as a 17-year-old Navy midshipman, before spending 5 1/2 years as a Vietnam prisoner of war and the past 26 years as a member of Congress.
"In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers. And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change." said Palin, toying with the central theme in Obama’s campaign.
Palin’s 19-year-old son, Track, ships out for Iraq next week with his Army unit. The governor was unflinching as she contrasted McCain’s military record with a lack of armed service by Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.
"There is only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you in places where winning means survival and defeat means death — and that man is John McCain," said Palin.
With his own acceptance speech Thursday night, McCain kicks off the general election and begins his final push to win a White House term that eluded the Arizona senator during a previous campaign in 2000.
"I think we’ve got to make the case that I’m ready, that I put my country first and it’s time to put aside our partisan rancor and differences and work together for the country, and that I can create jobs and restore our economy and keep our country safe," McCain told ABC News in an interview Wednesday.
McCain secured his nomination early Thursday, Eastern time, following a state-by-state roll call vote by nearly 2,400 delegates gathered at the Xcel Energy Center on the banks of the Mississippi River.
Delegates witnessing Palin’s political coming-out party had high hopes for her candidacy, especially after the 44-year-old faced the challenge of matching the star power of Obama. The 47-year-old Illinois senator accepted his nomination last week before a stadium crowd of 84,000 people in Denver.
"For too many times, we’ve brought knives to gun fights," said Chuck Gast, a delegate from Maryland.
When asked if Palin, a hunter, brought a gun to the fight, Gast said, "Yes, I think she brings a big gun — like a moose gun."
Alaska delegate Ralph Seekins, who knows Palin personally, said she relished her prime-time audience.
"She’s an attractive lady and that’s disarming to a lot of people," he said. "At the same time, she’s a very capable lady. We respect her in Alaska and we think as the rest of the country and the rest of the world gets to know her, they’ll be the same."
In a nod toward party unity, McCain also gave speaking roles to three of his former political rivals.
The highest honor was accorded former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who used a taunting, rollicking address to accuse Obama and the Democrats of not learning the lessons of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Giuliani said McCain "will keep us on offense against terrorism at home and abroad."
Alluding to last week’s Democratic National Convention, he added: "Of great concern to me, during those same four days in Denver, they rarely mentioned the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. They are in a state of denial about the biggest threat that faces this country. And if you deny it and you don’t deal with it, you can’t face it."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said Obama "ducked and dodged" when asked recently about the threat of Islamic terrorism. "John McCain hit the nail on the head," said Romney. "Radical violent Islam is evil, and he will defeat it."
Meanwhile, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, known for his wit and humor on the trail, rebuffed those who questioned Palin’s experience.
"I want to tell you folks something," said Huckabee. "She got more votes running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, than Joe Biden got running for president of the United States."