ST. PAUL, Minn. - With soft rebukes of his opponent and his own party - and harsh words for the culture of Washington - Sen. John McCain claimed the Republican presidential nomination last night and promised that "change is coming" after eight years of the Bush Administration.
The address was much like the candidate: forceful and blunt-spoken, with little of Obama's lyricism. McCain filled it with biography and calls for bipartisanship, hammering his convention theme of "country first" and jabbing Obama.
"Again and again," he said, in remarks prepared for delivery, "I've worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed. 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."
The Republican nominee spoke to a crowd of more than 20,000 in the home of hockey's Minnesota Wild, backed by a screen that changed from lime-green to blue.
Organizers extended the sparse stage into the delegate seats on the convention floor, seeking to emulate the "town hall" settings that are McCain's strong suit.
McCain walked on stage isolated in a beam of light, spotlights raking the darkened convention hall. The crowd chanted, "USA! USA!" - at times to drown out protesters who shouted from the corners of the hall.
The tone and the visuals contrasted sharply with Obama's acceptance speech last week - delivered before more than 84,000 supporters under the stars at Denver's Invesco Field, flanked by Greco-Tuscan columns and topped off by fireworks. Obama's address drew 38 million television viewers, a number GOP vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin nearly matched with her first major national speech on Wednesday.
The lead-in to McCain's speech lacked the electricity of the previous week in Denver or even the previous night here, when speaker after speaker mocked Obama's experience and the crowd buzzed with anticipation for Palin, the governor of Alaska.
Last night's warm-up acts took fewer direct shots at Obama. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina's said the Democratic nominee's campaign "is built around us losing in Iraq." He mockingly reversed Obama's critique of McCain's ability to empathize with Americans struggling economically.
"I'm not saying Barack Obama doesn't care" about the Iraq war, Graham said. "I'm just saying he doesn't get it."
McCain criticized Obama on taxes, energy, education and globalization. But he began by offering a grace note to Obama and his supporters, drawing a single shouted "boo" inside and the hall smattering of polite applause. "We'll go at it over the next two months," McCain said. "That's the nature of these contests, and there are big differences between us. But you have my respect and my admiration."
Unlike McCain, who congratulated Obama in a TV ad on the night of the Invesco speech, Obama criticized his opponent yesterday morning. Republicans at the convention, he told reporters after touring a turbine plant in York, Pa., have "spent a lot of time talking about me, not in particularly truthful terms. But [they] haven't spent any time talking about the problems that ordinary Americans are going through every single day."
At 72, McCain is the oldest first-time presidential nominee in the country's history. His acceptance capped a convention on the bank of the Mississippi River that was jumbled by Hurricane Gustav's arrival on the Gulf Coast, which forced the GOP to cancel most of Monday's events here. Palin, 44, also made history yesterday when she was formally installed as the first woman on a Republican White House ticket.
The duo plans to campaign together for the next few days, starting today with a town hall session in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. They face a number of hurdles - a sagging economy, unpopular war, fatigue with the incumbent administration - that McCain says make them the underdog in the 60-day sprint to November.
It is not easy for a party to win three straight terms in the White House. But in distancing himself from the incumbent administration last night, and reaching out to independents and Democrats, McCain had to be careful not to upset those faithful who still hold Bush in high esteem. He navigated by directing his scorn not at the incumbent, but at a perennial target of both parties: nameless, faceless obstructionists inside the Beltway.
"Let me offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second Washington crowd," McCain said. "Change is coming."
He also offered a brief but striking critique of his own party. "We were elected to change Washington, and we let Washington change us," McCain said, as the crowd was mostly silent. "We lost the trust of the American people when some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption."