ST. PAUL, Minn. Independence received big cheers Tuesday night.
Republicans found themselves cheering for one of their most unlikely supporters Tuesday night when Sen. Joe Lieberman stepped to the podium at the Republican National Convention. Lieberman is a former Democratic, and currently independent, senator from Connecticut who ran as Al Gore's running mate on the Democratic ticket in 2000.
Utah Republicans, meanwhile, did their best to enjoy a night when one of their own, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., was stuck in oratory limbo after his scheduled Tuesday night speech was canceled. The changes were necessitated by convention delays caused by Hurricane Gustav.
"I was disappointed," said Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem. "We'd like to be able to show off our governor and let the rest of the country see what a class act he is. Now I'm not confident Gov. Huntsman will get a chance to speak."
Another Utah delegate, Tim Bridgewater, McCain's Western states regional coordinator, also said there may not be an opportunity for Huntsman to speak at the convention.
"Sen. McCain has enormous respect for Jon Huntsman and sees him as a key ally in this election," Bridgewater said. But with such an abbreviated convention schedule, there's just not room for all the speakers originally planned.
Greg Hartley a Utah delegate and the manager of Huntsman's re-election campaign, said the speaking slot wasn't important for the governor's campaign. Huntsman remains popular in Utah and doesn't appear to face much of a challenge from his Democratic opponent, Bob Springmeyer.
"This convention is about John McCain, not Jon Huntsman," Hartley said, even though the speech "certainly was a great opportunity for him."
Tuesday's schedule was a condensed version of what was supposed to happen Monday night, and the GOP used the time to focus on the personal character and patriotism of McCain, through personal stories from people who have known him for decades.
Almost all of the speeches Tuesday night painted McCain as a great maverick, a war hero, and a strong leader who will make a great president.
Lieberman spoke to a convention crowd that seemed ready to finally celebrate.
"I'm here tonight because country matters more than party," Lieberman told the crowd, to raucous cheering.
His address, delivered in prime-time on every major network, was not directed solely at Republicans. He also spoke to Democrats and independents, telling them a vote for McCain was a vote for honesty, reform and strength.
"This year, when you vote for president, vote for the person you believe is best for the country, not for the party you happen to belong to," Lieberman said. "Vote for the leader who, since the age of 17, when he raised his hand and took an oath to defend and protect our Constitution, has always put our country first."
President Bush delivered a short speech in a live video feed that was complimentary of McCain both for his service to his country and his moral principles. The president, like former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who followed him, referenced McCain's time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
"If the Hanoi Hilton could not break John McCain's resolve, you can bet the angry left never will," Bush said.
But Thompson, popular among conservatives and well-known nationally because of his role on the TV show "Law & Order," really got rolling when he turned on Democratic nominee Barack Obama, criticizing him for needing a Teleprompter, for wanting to raise taxes and for wanting to pull out of Iraq.
"To deal with these challenges, Democrats present a history-making nominee," Thompson said. "History-making in that he is the most liberal, least-experienced nominee to ever run for president."
Utahns listening to the speeches from the convention floor said Tuesday's focus on McCain's appeal to independent voters would resonate in the state, even though it consistently goes red in elections.
"Sen. McCain and I haven't always agreed on issues. That's why I was such a strong supporter of Mitt Romney," Valentine said. But now that the GOP primaries are over, Valentine said McCain is the clear choice for Utahns.
The Utah Senate president said only the most die-hard Democrats or Republicans will "poo-poo" the message of political independence delivered Tuesday night by President Bush and other speakers, especially Lieberman.
Bridgewater said that "most people in Utah feel like they're independent even though they're strongly Republican in their philosophy" like McCain.Rep. Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said she enjoyed the shift in tone at the convention Tuesday, now that the hurricane danger has passed. "Yesterday was perfunctory," Lockhart said. "It's nice tonight to have cheering ... there's an excitement."