Republican John McCain cast himself as an independent-minded reformer on Thursday and said he had the scars to prove it in a speech that promised Americans "change is coming" if they elect him on Nov. 4.
McCain accepted his party's presidential nomination in a packed convention hall, insisting he can pull off the kind of change that Democratic candidate Barack Obama talks about in a year Americans are hungry for new leadership.
"Let me offer an advance warning to the old, big spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second Washington crowd: change is coming," said McCain, himself a U.S. senator since 1986.
The 72-year-old Arizona senator, who bears the scars of 5 1/2 years as a Vietnam prisoner of war, launched a two-month campaign to win the White House, entering the push to Election Day as the underdog with most polls showing Democrat Barack Obama ahead by a few percentage points.
McCain, portrayed as no different than unpopular President George W. Bush by Obama and the Democrats, tried to reclaim his image as a Republican maverick in hopes of attracting independent voters likely to be key to the election.
"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," he said. "I've fought corruption, and it didn't matter if the culprits were Democrats or Republicans."
Speaking to Americans' fears about the weak U.S. economy, McCain promised to keep taxes low and accused Obama of seeking to raise them. He said he would offer education programs to help workers who have lost jobs from a loss of the country's manufacturing base.
"My opponent promises to bring back old jobs by wishing away the global economy. We're going to help workers who've lost a job that won't come back, find a new one that won't go away," he said.
A handful of protesters tried to disrupt the proceedings but were shouted down by the crowd with chants of "USA, USA." Security hauled out two women. "Please don't be diverted by the ground noise and the static," McCain said. "Americans want us to stop yelling at each other." (Watch excerpts of McCain's acceptance speech)
Promising bipartisanship, McCain bemoaned "the constant partisan rancor that stops us from solving" America's problems and said he has a record of reaching across the party aisle, unlike Obama.
"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. 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," he said.
McCain portrayed Washington as broken and said both parties were responsible for it, taking a shot at Illinois Sen. Obama over his energy policies, a sensitive issue in this election with both campaigns offering energy plans to wean the United States from foreign oil.
"We lost their trust when instead of freeing ourselves from a dangerous dependence on foreign oil, both parties and Sen. Obama passed another corporate welfare bill for oil companies," he said.
McCain also talked about his defining experience, the years he spent as a Vietnam prisoner of war, a period in which he said he realized how special his own country was.
"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 said.
He had a tough act to follow.
More than 37 million viewers tuned in to watch the speech by his vice presidential running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, just shy of the record set last Friday by Obama, whose nomination acceptance address in Denver was seen by 38.4 million, Nielsen Media Research reported.
"So how about that Sarah Palin?" McCain's wife, Cindy McCain, asked the crowd before her husband spoke. "John has picked a reform-minded, hockey-mommin,' basketball shootin,' moose huntin,' fly-fishin,' pistol-packing, mother of five for vice president."
Obama Fights Back
Obama, speaking to reporters, shot back at Palin for saying that being mayor of tiny Wasilla, Alaska, was a little like Obama's service as a community organizer in Chicago, except that "you have actual responsibilities" as mayor.
"They think that the lives of those folks who are struggling each and every day, that working with them to try to improve their lives is somehow not relevant to the presidency?" Obama said.
"I think maybe that's the problem. That's part of why they're out of touch and they don't get it because they haven't spent much time working on behalf of those folks," he told reporters in York, Pennsylvania.
Palin was at it again at a luncheon of U.S. Republican state governors, saying governors have to make decisions and "we don't have a 'present' button as governor."
That was a knock on Obama's history of voting "present" instead of yes or no on many pieces of legislation in the U.S. Senate.