By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
After a video of John McCain’s biography ended, the crowd erupted with whistles, whoops and applause in the darkness lit by flashing cameras.
McCain walked onto the stage, the lights rose and thunderous applause filled the Xcel Center.
“USA, USA, USA,” chanted the Republican delegates.
Former senator and presidential contender Fred Thompson, standing in front of an oversized image of John McCain at the convention, tells delegates that “while others are talking reform, John McCain led the effort to make reform happen – always pressing, always moving for what he believed was right and necessary to restore the people’s faith in their government.”
McCain smiled and nodded. Behind him, the Walter Reed Middle School filled the massive screen that some delegates and campaign staffers believed should have been a slide of Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
It was a minor glitch in this finely tuned convention of speakers who delivered the message of “Country First” — from reminding listeners of McCain’s prisoner of war years in Vietnam to his courage in risking his political future to promote the surge in Iraq.
“Tonight, I have a privilege given to few Americans — the privilege of accepting our party’s nomination for President of the United States,” said McCain. “And I accept it with gratitude, humility and confidence.”
He thanked President Bush for leading the country through “those dark days following the worst attack on American soil in our history, and keeping us safe from another attack many thought was inevitable.”
Bush had sent a videotaped message to the Republican National Convention. He was working with FEMA in the Gulf Coast Region to provide assistance to victims of Hurricane Gustav. Bush and McCain considered canceling the convention, however, the hurricane’s strength dissipated as it moved inland in a remote, less populated area.
McCain said there are many differences between himself and Barack Obama.
“But you have my respect and admiration,” McCain said indirectly to his Democratic opponent. “Despite our differences, much more unites us than divides us. We are fellow Americans, an association that means more to me than any other.”
Again the crowd roared with approval.
The phrase “fellow Americans” was also aimed at voters, regardless of party affiliation. McCain repeated the nonpartisan message throughout his speech.
“You know, I’ve been called a maverick, someone who marches to the beat of his own drum,” McCain said with a smile. “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 special interest. I don’t work for myself. I work for you.”
McCain also stressed that he’s been through difficult times, but he didn’t give up. The message conveyed that McCain can be trusted to lead the country to better economic times, to become energy independent, to maintain its power in the world, and to resolve the struggles in Iraq.
“I fought for the right strategy and more troops in Iraq, when it wasn’t a popular thing to do,” he said. “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 named and described several working class families, struggling to raise children, pay bills or coping of a young soldier who died in Iraq.
“I fight for Americans,” McCain declared. “I fight for you.”
Stressing his ability to challenge the status quo, McCain said, “I’ve fought corruption, and it didn’t matter if the culprits were Democrats or Republicans … 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.”
McCain said he plans to revive the economy by cutting the business tax to help companies remain competitive and keep jobs from being lost to overseas markets. He’ll double the child tax exemption from $3,500 to $7,000, reduce government spending by eliminating unspecified programs, and help prepare workers to compete in the world economy.
“Government assistance for unemployed workers was designed for the economy of the 1950s. That’s going to change on my watch,” declared McCain. Under his plan, unemployed workers would receive training at community colleges for new jobs that won’t be eliminated.
“My opponent promises to bring back old jobs by wishing away the global economy.”
McCain supports NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement); Obama has said he wants to amend it to protect American workers and improve environmental conditions.
Calling it the “most ambitious national project in decades,” McCain laid out a plan to achieve energy independence that will include off shore oil drilling, building more nuclear power plants, developing clean coal technology, and implementing the use of wind, tide, solar and natural gas.
In addition, McCain called for building flex fuel, hybrid and electric powered vehicles. The national project, he said, will create millions of jobs.
“Today, the prospect of a better world remains within our reach,” McCain assured. “But we must see the threats to peace and liberty in our time clearly and face them, as Americans before us did, with confidence, wisdom and resolve.”
McCain said he aims for peace, however, he unfurled a list of threats against the country. He warned that al Qaeda could again strike America, Iran is the chief sponsor of terrorism and is acquiring nuclear weapons, and Russia remains posed to invade Georgia to gain the small country’s oil supply.
“We face many threats in this dangerous world, but I am not afraid of them,” said McCain. “I’m prepared for them. I know how the military works, what it can do, what it can do better, and what it should do. I know now the world works. I know the good and 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 peace,” vowed McCain.
He implored everyone to join him in the fight for America.
“Fight with me. Fight with me. Fight for what’s right for your country. Fight for the ideals and character of free people. Fight for our children’s future. Fight for justice and opportunity for all.
“Stand up to defend our country from its enemies. Stand up for each other, for beautiful, blessed bountiful America. Stand up. Stand up. Stand up and fight.
“Nothing is inevitable here. We’re Americans, and we never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history.”
The crowd was ecstatic, clapping and cheering. From the ceiling, confetti and red, white and blue balloons rained onto the Republican delegates and guests. As the music played a western tune and then Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People,” the crowd was euphoric, dancing and popping balloons.
Straight Talk Express lands in Colorado Springs
Colorado is being courted — it’s one of a half dozen swing states too close to call in the presidential election. For that reason, two days after accepting the nomination in Minneapolis, Sen. McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin flew to Colorado Springs.
“We need to carry Colorado. We need to win!” said McCain standing beside his wife, Cindy, and Palin in the aviation hanger. “Colorado is going to be tough battle, but we will win!”
Nearly 14,000 people excitedly waved flags and yelled “yeah!” Some had waited four hours in the hot sun to see the Republican presidential ticket.
“I love, respect and admire the graduates of the United States Air Force Academy,” declared McCain, standing near Republican U.S. Senate candidate Congressman Bob Schaffer and his daughter Emily, a cadet at the Academy.
“Some of our great Olympic champions train here,” said McCain, commending Henry Cejudo, a wrestler who won a gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“John McCain is the only one who’s got what it takes to lead our country,” Palin said. “With your help we’re going to Washington to shake things up!”
The crowd was enthralled as Palin and McCain repeated excerpts of the speeches they’d delivered at the Republican National Convention. The crowd roared enthusiastic approval.
Seated on the stage were Attorney General John Suthers; Secretary of State Mike Coffman; Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhaney; Republican National Committeewoman Lily Nunez and Joe Nunez; Senator Dave Schultheis and Sandra Schultheis; state Reps. Marsha Looper, Bob Gardner, Amy Stephens; El Paso County Commissioners Wayne Williams, Sallie Clark and Amy Lathen; Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera and candidates Kit Roupe, Keith King and Mark Waller.