ST. PAUL, Minn. — John McCain cast himself Thursday night as a lifelong fighter for his country who's ready to lead new battles for dramatic change as he accepted the Republican Party's presidential nomination.
"I don't mind a good fight," he told the Republican National Convention. "For reasons known only to God, I've had quite a few tough ones in my life. But I learned an important lesson along the way: In the end, it matters less that you can fight. What you fight for is the real test."
He said he was eager to cross party lines and lead new missions.
"I will reach out my hand to anyone to help me get this country moving again," he pledged. "I have that record and the scars to prove it. Senator Obama does not."
He was also gracious to Democratic nominee Barack Obama, however, saying, "there are big differences between us. But you have my respect and admiration. Despite our differences, much more unites us than divides us. We are fellow Americans, an association that means more to me than any other."
He also drew sharp contrasts with Obama, focusing on their records, backgrounds and policy proposals.
And he spoke at length about his five and a half years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.
"I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's," McCain said. "I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency, for its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. 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."
He also made it clear that during his nearly 26 years in Congress, he has been his own man, and he had some sharp words for his own party.
"We lost the trust of the American people when some Republicans gave in to the temptations of corruption," he said, a reference to scandals involving special interests that have topped some Republican members of Congress.
"We lost their trust rather than reform government," he said. "Both parties made it bigger."
That has to end, McCain said, because "the constant partisan rancor that stops us from solving these problems isn't a cause, it's a symptom."
Protesters tried to create their own rancor, holding up signs protesting McCain's support of the Iraq war. At one point, as one was dragged out of the Xcel Energy Center while the crowd chanted, "USA, USA," McCain quipped, "Please don't be distracted by the ground noise and the static."
Though he usually votes with fellow Republicans and has been casting himself as a die-hard conservative during his presidential campaign, he's frequently teamed with Democrats in the past.
McCain also voted against President Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, championed changes in campaign finance laws and pushed environmental and immigration legislation, all stands that antagonized the Republican base.
Partisan gridlock, he said, "is what happens when people go to Washington to work for themselves and not you. Again and again, I've worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed. That's how I will govern as president."
He highlighted differences with Obama, notably on economic and national security issues.
McCain wants to make Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts — many of which expire on Jan. 1, 2011 — permanent. He also pledges to seek lower corporate tax rates and to double the exemption for dependents.
Obama wants to let most tax reductions for those who make roughly $250,000 or more expire, to increase the capital gains tax and to cut taxes for the middle and poorer classes.
"I will keep taxes low and cut them where I can," McCain said. "My opponent will raise them. I will open new markets to our goods and services. My opponent will close them. I will cut government spending. He will increase it."
The candidates also split on the war. McCain has been a staunch supporter; while Obama, a war critic, wants U.S. troops out of Iraq by mid-2010.
"I fought for the right strategy and more troops in Iraq when it wasn't a popular thing to do," McCain said to a chorus of cheers from the crowd.
"And when the pundits said my campaign was finished, I said I'd rather lose an election than see my country lose a war," he added, a line that got loud, respectful applause.
Remember, McCain said as he ended his address with a call for people to unite behind the right causes: "Stand up. Stand up. Stand up and fight," he inveighed, speaking over rising cheers. "Nothing is inevitable here. We're Americans, and we never give up. We never quit. ... We never hide from history. We make history."
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