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As the four-day 2008 Republican National Convention came to an end Thursday night, presidential nominee Sen. John McCain and running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin waved to the cheering crowd in St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center.
A former prisoner of war, McCain revved up the convention hall with his acceptance speech saying, “I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's ... 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.”
A “Code Pink” protester briefly disrupted McCain's speech to which he said with a big smile, “My dear friends - please don't be diverted by the ground noise and the static.”
He vowed during his speech to vanquish the “constant partisan rancor” that grips Washington as he launched his fall campaign for the White House. “Change is coming,” he promised the audience of thousands in the hall and the prime-time television audience of millions watching.
“Fight with me. Fight with me. Fight with me. Fight for what's right for our country,” he said.
Veronica Rodriguez has been sharing her convention experience daily from St. Paul. She is a New Mexico alternate delegate from Los Alamos who works for Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M.
“We had a great view of the stage and it was an amazing night,” she said this morning. “It really felt like a call to action and was really the theme troughout the entire convention - serving a call greater than ourselves.”
Rodriguez described McCain’s speech as energizing and inspirational. “Especially when he spoke of his own transformation.”
McCain was focused more on his individual interests but that all changed when he was held captive as a war prisoner for five-and-a-half-years. Since his release he has spent his life in the service of others, she said.
“This has been such a great experience,” Rodriguez said.
“I've had the opportunity to meet delegates from across the nation and from all walks of life. We have everyone from a 20-year-old delegate from UNM to retired people to young elected officials. There's just a wealth of ideas and experiences and perspectives this party has to draw from.”
Rodriguez described her time in St. Paul as a “wonderful learning experience” filled with friendly people from the delegates to the organizers to the volunteers. “It's been a good week of friendship, exchanging ideas and inspiration,” she said.
Before MCCain spoke Thursday night, his wife Cindy McCain recommended her husband to the crowd — and the nation.
“If Americans want straight talk and the plain truth they should take a good close look at John McCain, a man tested and true who's never wavered in his devotion to our country,” she said. She called him “a man who's served in Washington without ever becoming a Washington insider.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also had a speaking slot, and he used it to criticize McCain's rival. He said Sen. Barack Obama and the liberal group MoveOn.org were the only ones who didn't realize that President Bush's decision to deploy additional troops to Iraq last year had succeeded
During his acceptance speech, McCain, 72, mentioned Bush only in passing, as the leader who led the country through the days after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
He spoke enthusiastically about running mate Palin, 44.
“She stands up for what's right and she doesn't let anyone tell her to sit down,” he said. “And let me offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second Washington crowd: Change is coming.”
McCain pledged to free the country from the grip of its dependence on foreign oil, vowed to have schools answer to parents and students rather than “unions and entrenched bureaucrats.”
“After we've won, we're going to reach out our hand to any willing patriot, make this government start working for you again,” he said, and also pledged to invite Democrats and independents to serve in his administration.
McCain has often clashed with Republicans in Congress. “I've been called a maverick,” he said. “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 a special interest. I don't work for myself. I work for you.”
McCain and Palin departed from the convention for Wisconsin and an early start on the final weeks of the White House campaign. They will hold a rally Saturday at the convention center in Albuquerque.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.