ST. PAUL, Minn. – Sen. John McCain delivered a solid speech to the Republican National Convention that, while not rousing, demonstrated his leadership, Maryland delegates said after the speech Thursday.
McCain faced high expectations for his acceptance address after his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, accepted the vice-presidential nomination after a punchy speech peppered with zingers aimed at the Democratic ticket of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and Delaware Sen. Joe Biden.
The 72-year-old Arizona senator, who would be the oldest first-term president if elected in November, spoke about the change he would bring to the White House and his devotion to the country, but his speech avoided much of the partisan rhetoric employed by his running mate Wednesday night.
“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,” said McCain. “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.”
While several Maryland Republicans begrudgingly admitted that Palin’s speech was livelier than McCain’s, they also offered an array of reasons explaining why the crowd was far calmer listening to McCain than Palin.
“It wasn’t his job to get people excited; it was his job to demonstrate his leadership style,” said Delegate Anne McCarthy of Baltimore. “These two people (McCain and Palin) are about change, especially Sen. McCain. His whole life has been about serving his country, and standing up and making enemies.”
Still, some Marylanders insisted that McCain was the man of the hour and he delivered everything they needed.
“Are you kidding me? This night is everything I have waited for the past two years,” said Alternate Delegate Heather Olson of Hyattsville, who started following McCain during his run for the presidency in 2000.
McCain, who spent 22 years in the U.S. Navy and more than five as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, was charged with speaking to the moderate voters about his willingness to cross party lines while still appealing to the devout Republican base.
McCain called his wife, Cindy, his “inspiration” and lauded her service on behalf of the disadvantaged around the world.
Cindy McCain, in turn, introduced her husband as the man she’s loved all her life, with nearly 30 years together.
Earlier in the evening, South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham and former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge warmed up the crowd at the Xcel Energy Center.
But the best line of the night came from all the delegates gathered in the convention hall.
“Drill, baby, drill,” they shouted at McCain’s mention of tapping the nation’s resources to lessen dependence on nations who “don’t like us very much.” The chant was coined by Maryland favorite son Michael Steele, who employed the saying in his Wednesday night address.
The convention’s program this week has been anything but predictable starting with Monday night’s abridged schedule due to Hurricane Gustav. On Thursday, convention organizers talked of delaying McCain’s speech if the football game between the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants ran long.
The Redskins lost, 16-7, but McCain went on as planned and conventioneers were still talking of the success of Palin’s speech, which drew an unexpected 37 million U.S. viewers.