McCain praises Bush as 'tested'
Moderate senator appeals to independent voters
By Sean Loughlin
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Republican Sen. John McCain, a popular moderate, delivered a hearty endorsement Monday night of President Bush, describing him as a "tested" leader who remains unbowed in the face of terrorism.
"I salute his determination to make this world a better, safer, freer place," McCain of Arizona told the roughly 4,800 delegates and alternates gathered at Madison Square Garden for the Republican convention. "He has not wavered. He has not flinched from the hard choices. He will not yield. And neither will we."
McCain, whose own history with the president includes a bitter 2000 GOP primary fight, offered a robust defense of Bush's choices on the international stage, including his decision to invade Iraq and depose former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"I believe as strongly today as ever, the mission was necessary, achievable and noble," McCain said to prolonged cheers.
In a speech that appeared intended to reach out to moderates and independents, McCain, 68, noted his history of working with Democrats on some issues -- "I'm fortunate to call many of them my friends" -- and he encouraged voters to look beyond party labels.
"We are Americans first, Americans last, Americans always," McCain said. "Let us argue our differences. But remember we are not enemies, but comrades in a war against a real enemy."
McCain's speech was noteworthy for its upbeat tone. Even as he cited the perils of war, he spoke of the strength of the American spirit. He offered no criticism of Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee.
McCain's political star has risen this campaign season. He was courted by the Kerry camp to consider joining the Democratic ticket, and he has been featured in campaign ads from both sides.
McCain's praise of Bush, a onetime rival, was unqualified, shunning any discussion of policy differences, such as the president's proposal to amend the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. McCain's endorsement and recent campaigning with Bush has pundits speculating that the senator harbors deeper political ambitions and wants to secure his party credentials.
The three-term senator has poll numbers that any politician would envy. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll from late August found that the favorable to unfavorable rating for McCain was 55 percent to 19 percent -- better than any other national politician.
As several speakers did, McCain evoked the memory of September 11, 2001, describing the terrorist attacks of that day as an assault on freedom that galvanized the nation and the world.
Like the president, McCain cast the war in Iraq as part of the broader battle against global terrorism.
McCain suggested critics of the war at home and abroad had underestimated the threat posed by Saddam. He took a swipe at filmmaker Michael Moore, whose anti-Bush documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" has infuriated many conservatives.
John McCain's reference to filmmaker Michael Moore, who is attending the conference, brought boos from the crowd.
While not mentioning Moore by name, McCain's reference was clear as he slammed "a disingenuous film maker who would have us believe that Saddam's Iraq was an oasis of peace when in fact it was a place of indescribable cruelty, torture chambers, mass graves and prisons that destroyed the lives of the small children held inside their walls."
Moore, who was in the audience, laughed and wave.
But McCain was interrupted by robust cheers and applause from the crowd who chanted, "Four more years."