ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Not merely a Republican. Not merely a candidate. John McCain cast himself as a leader for all Americans, regardless of party or status.
After several days of Democratic bashing by his supporters, the Arizona senator struck a nonpartisan stance and promised that he wouldn't be bound by political party in the White House as he accepted the GOP presidential nomination Thursday before thousands of Republican loyalists.
"We are fellow Americans, an association that means more to me than any other," McCain told the Republican Convention, deriding "constant partisan rancor" that causes Washington gridlock. He rejected those in Washington who he said "work for themselves and not you."
"I don't work for a party," he declared. "I don't work for a special interest. I don't work for myself. I work for you."
The GOP nominee was making an aggressive play for voters from across the political spectrum Republicans, independents and Democrats alike who are frustrated with partisan infighting.
McCain marched through a series of big issues defense, taxes, education, energy independence among them but without offering many specifics. Instead, there were generic promises to "make it better," of "rewarding hard work," and the like.
And even as he preached bipartisanship, McCain served up Republican dogma to the willing crowd, on abortion, taxes, national security, oil drilling.
His trick was to appeal to his conservative supporters without turning off independents.
Seeking to give voters wary of Barack Obama an acceptable alternative, McCain praised his Democratic rival and said that Obama's supporters had his respect and admiration.
"But let there be no doubt, my friends, we're going to win this election," McCain said, "and after we've won, we're going to reach out our hand to any willing patriot, make this government start working for you again, and get this country back on the road to prosperity and peace."
In an arena plastered with his "Country First" slogan, McCain told the GOP's most faithful supporters that he's repeatedly worked with members of both parties to fix the country's ills.
"That's how I will govern as president," he said. "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. Senator Obama does not."
It was a rare mention of his Democratic rival; McCain used his name only six times. And, he mentioned the words Republicans and Democrats mainly in tandem, urging the two sides to work together and trying to show how he was unafraid to take on both parties to force change.
McCain ended his 50-minute speech with a call to arms: He exhorted, "Fight with me. Fight with me," as the crowd's roar of approval drowned out his voice. With music blaring and balloons cascading, McCain stopped to savor the moment, then stepped down from the podium and was swallowed up among the cheering delegates.
For all his talk of reaching across the aisle, McCain got in jabs at Obama. After all, there are only two months until Election Day.
He said Obama would raise taxes, close markets, increase government spending, eliminate jobs. He criticized Obama on energy, health care, and education policies.
The audience was clearly hungry for it: They booed Obama after every criticism, though there were relatively few.
Speechmaking has never been McCain's strong point, and his delivery Thursday clearly paled next to that of his running mate or his Democratic rivals. Pausing after each idea, McCain's tone seemed better suited to a speech in the Senate. Obama, Democratic No. 2 Joe Biden and running mate Sarah Palin had been riveting; McCain offered more of a laundry list.
The delegates didn't seem to mind if their nominee lacked Obama's rhetorical polish.
"This guy has more experience in his little pinkie from speaking in the Senate than Obama will ever have," said Colorado delegate Gabriel Schwartz. "It was a much better speech for what it said and the way he delivered it honestly than some smooth speech from someone who can't deliver."
McCain mostly refrained from the brass-knuckled rhetoric that marked Obama's speech exactly one week earlier.
Perhaps the Republican's sharpest hit came without even a mention of his Democratic rival.
"I'm not running for president because I think I'm blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save our country in its hour of need," McCain mocked. "My country saved me. My country saved me, and I cannot forget it. And I will fight for her for as long as I draw breath, so help me God."
McCain has cast Obama as a presumptuous candidate, and his campaign has likened the Democrat to a would-be messiah.
The Arizona senator also issued a warning "to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second Washington crowd: Change is coming." That, too, was an indirect Obama reference. McCain has suggested his Democratic rival puts personal ambition above the country.
In his comments, McCain left it to his audience to connect the dots.
Certainly, McCain's speech wasn't as sharp as Palin's address to the delegates the night before or a host of other speakers who came before him. Their speeches were filled with biting attacks on Obama and his Democrats.
McCain, however, can't risk turning off undecided swing voters, many of whom recoil at negative campaigning.
Early on in his 50-minute address, protesters inside the hall interrupted McCain's address a few times, but on each occasion the crowd shouted them down with chants of "USA, USA." McCain himself was unfazed, telling the audience, "please don't be diverted by the ground noise and the static."
"Americans want us to stop yelling at each other," he added, trying to use the disruption to his advantage.
A Vietnam prisoner of war, McCain pointed to his 5 1/2 years in captivity as a life-changing turning point.
"I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's," he said. "I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again. I wasn't my own man anymore. I was my country's."