McCain: 'We need to change'

John McCain accepts the Republican presidential nomination, vowing to 'recover the people's trust'.

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ST PAUL, Minnesota // John McCain, whose campaign was out of money and by most accounts out of the running just a year ago, accepted the Republican presidential nomination on Thursday, effectively taking the reins of a party he is known for rebelling against but now must energise and rally.

Pledging to "recover the people's trust" in a government he said has lost it, Mr McCain painted himself as a reformer and fighter who has taken on special interests and "big spenders" in Washington, no matter their political stripes. And he said he has been unafraid to take unpopular stands - as when he supported the so-called troop surge in Iraq - even if it meant he would have to stand alone. "You know, I've been called a maverick, someone who marches to the beat of his own drum," said Mr McCain, who has served in Congress since 1983. "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." Saying "I don't mind a good fight", Mr McCain, who at 72 would be the oldest president in history to take office, pledged to do what his Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, has said he too will do: shake up Washington. "We need to change the way government does almost everything," said Mr McCain, who delivered the speech slowly and deliberately. "From the way we protect our security to the way we compete in the world economy; from the way we respond to disasters to the way we fuel our transportation network; from the way we train our workers to the way we educate our children." But in his 45-minute remarks, the Arizona senator offered few policy specifics on how he would do that. He used much of the speech to outline a broad vision of Republican government - lower taxes, a strong national defence, fiscal and personal responsibility - and talk about values like honour, service and self-sacrifice, which played into the convention theme of "Country First". He spoke in general terms of the threats America faces, including from al Qa'eda and Iran, and pledged his readiness to defend the country, as he did in the US Navy. He recounted the story that has been told here over and over this week: how, as a pilot flying on a mission over North Vietnam, he was shot down. Badly injured, he was captured and left for dead in a prison cell. He spent more than five years in captivity, refusing at one point to be released early. Mr McCain delivered his speech in a very different setting than Mr Obama, who accepted the Democratic nomination a week ago before a crowd of nearly 80,000 at an open-air Denver sports stadium. Republicans, by contrast, put their man behind a low podium on a runway that stretched between the delegations seated on the convention floor, creating a far more intimate, town-hall-like feel. Mr McCain has rankled his party time and again for his bipartisan work on issues like ethics and campaign finance reform, earning the nickname, offered mostly in derision, "St John". And he has hardly been a favourite of his party's conservative wing. But he was warmly received on Thursday night by a crowd that broke repeatedly into chants of "USA", the loudest when two anti-war protesters were dragged by security from the crowd. In thinly veiled criticism, Mr McCain knocked Mr Obama for what some have called his egotism and elitism. "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," Mr McCain said. "My country saved me. My country saved me, and I will not forget it." Shortly before Mr McCain delivered his remarks, Mr Obama's campaign released an email message from the candidate criticising the Republican gathering for "attacking ordinary people". "What you didn't hear from the Republicans at their convention is a single new idea about how to make the healthcare system work, get our economy moving for the middle class or improve education," the email said. "Just attacks - on me, and on you." Mr McCain offered a steadfast, if brief, defence of his running mate, the Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, whose experience to serve as vice president has been questioned by Democrats and some in the media. "I'm very proud to have introduced our next vice presidnet to the country. But I can't wait until I introduce her to Washington," Mr McCain said. "And let me offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second Washington crowd: change is coming."