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McCain Praised as His Own Man

After the first night of the Republican National Convention was put on hold due to Hurricane Gustav, convention activities resumed in full swing Tuesday night with George Bush and Joe Lieberman headlining the evening.

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By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 3, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn., Sept. 2 -- Republicans began laying out a vigorous argument Tuesday for electing John McCain to the presidency, using the second day of their national convention here to portray the senator from Arizona as an independent-minded leader who would put the best interests of the nation before those of his party.

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After canceling most of its opening-day program because of Hurricane Gustav, the GOP returned to regular order Tuesday night with speeches from McCain friends and allies who extolled his judgment and character. Among them were Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), the Democrat-turned-independent who was Al Gore's running mate in 2000, and President Bush, who spoke by satellite video from the White House and hailed the candidate as ready to make the tough choices necessary for keeping the country safe.

Bush singled out McCain's strong support for a troop "surge" in Iraq at a time when other lawmakers had lost confidence in the war. "One senator above all had faith in our troops and the importance of their mission, and that was John McCain," the president said. "Some told him that his early and consistent call for more troops would put his presidential campaign at risk. He told them he would rather lose an election than see his country lose a war."

Bush's words served to buttress one of the main goals the McCain campaign had set for the second night of the convention: to present the candidate as a leader who takes action and speaks his mind regardless of the political toll. But Bush's presence, even if only on the big screens at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center, also complicated McCain's difficult task of convincing war-weary Americans that his administration would represent a departure from Bush at a time in which many voters say they want change in Washington.

Along with Bush, the two other main speakers Tuesday tried to turn what Democrats have hoped would be a major liability for McCain -- his vocal support for the Iraq war -- into an asset by stressing his perseverance in the face of popular opinion. To make the case to independent voters that he, rather than Democratic rival Barack Obama, is the candidate who has the credentials to work across the aisle, McCain turned to his close friend Lieberman, who was ostracized by the Democratic Party for supporting Bush on the war.

"When others were silent about the war in Iraq, John McCain had the guts and the judgment to sound the alarm about the mistakes we were making in Iraq," Lieberman said. "When others wanted to retreat in defeat from the field of battle, which would have been a disaster for the USA; when colleagues like Barack Obama were voting to cut off funding for our American troops on the battlefield, John McCain had the courage to stand against the tide of public opinion [and] advocate the surge."

Lieberman told cheering delegates: "I'm here to support John McCain because country matters more than party."

The delegates also heard from actor and former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.), who ran against McCain in the Republican primaries but saluted him in his address for his independence. "This man, John McCain, is not intimidated by what the polls say or by what is politically safe or popular," he said.

Although most of the evening was devoted to building up McCain and touting the "Country First" theme, both Thompson and Lieberman delivered some sharp barbs against Obama. Thompson said the Democrats are offering "a history-making nominee for president -- history-making in that he's the most liberal, most inexperienced nominee to ever run for president."

Lieberman labeled Obama a "gifted and eloquent young man," but said that "eloquence is no substitute for a record, not in these tough times for America." He added: "In the Senate, during the 3 1/2 years that Senator Obama's been a member, he has not reached across party lines to accomplish anything significant, nor has he been willing to take on powerful interest groups in the Democratic Party to get something done."

Even first lady Laura Bush, who typically eschews partisan rhetoric, got in a dig as she offered a forceful defense of her husband's record as she introduced him. Citing the president's program to provide AIDS drugs to 2 million Africans, a dramatic increase from fewer than 50,000 when he took office, Laura Bush borrowed Obama's campaign slogan in saying, "You might call that change you can really believe in."

As Republicans tried to regain a sense of normalcy after a tumultuous start to their convention, the atmosphere surrounding the gathering continued to be dominated by debate over the credentials of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain's running mate. The campaign responded strongly to coverage of the announcement Monday that Palin's unmarried 17-year-old daughter is pregnant, as McCain advisers and delegates complained about what they view as media bias against their candidate. But questions surfaced about the campaign's repeated assertion that the vetting process for Palin was thorough and complete.

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