They paled after Palin

Times Television Critic

There has been much talk about the new energy the naming of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin brought to the Republican National Convention. So why did the final night play so flat?

Maybe it was a case of convention fatigue, or the vacuum left by the windstorm that surrounded Palin. But none of the speakers, including McCain, seemed to catch fire Thursday night. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and Cindy McCain all gave perfectly fine speeches of praise, but they were treading water before the main event. Cindy McCain even finished early, leaving the Republicans with 10 minutes of dead air just when they needed it least.

Not an ideal buildup for any presidential candidate accepting his party's nomination, much less one who has positioned himself as a feisty, fearless, straight-talking maverick. McCain himself began carefully, extending classy congratulations to his opponent before adding, "But let there be no doubt, my friends, we're going to win this election."

Still, it wasn't until his speech was interrupted by chants of "USA, USA," as several women, presumably protesters, were dragged from the audience, that the McCain sass broke through.

"My friends!" he shouted into the delighted crowd, "please don't be diverted by the ground noise and the static. I'm going to talk about it some more, but Americans want us to stop yelling at each other."

He seemed to take that desire to heart. Although he took his share of shots at Obama -- "I have that record and the scars to prove it. Sen. Obama does not" -- he also insisted that "more unites us than divides us."

McCain, who has been a senator for more than two decades, seemed much more interested in shoring up his identity as a Washington outsider. "We were elected to change Washington," he said, "and we let Washington change us."

If that remark fell into silence, there were still many cheers, and ovations. As he again told his life story and listed the many issues that define the Republican Party, for example. As he called for the country to stand up and meet history, he could barely be heard over the cheering.


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