ST. PAUL Political “maverick” John McCain clicked the final piece of the 2008 presidential race into place Thursday with a speech that solidified his acceptance into the mainstream Republican fold.

On Thursday night before a jam-packed convention hall, he formally accepted the Republican Partys nomination to run for president of the United States.

McCain triggered his biggest applause from the Republican National Convention crowd at St. Pauls Xcel Center when he pledged to lower  taxes, increase school choice and win the Iraq War all major planks of the Republican Party.

Earlier in the evening, a Republican Party video reviewed the events of Sept. 11 and played on fears that it could happen again unless America elects John McCain.

That focus on fear of future terrorist attacks was just fine with New Mexico delegate Jonathan Sena of Hobbs, who said he thinks thats the most important issue facing America right now.

“I believe that one of the most important jobs of any president is to protect his people, and I trust John McCain to do that,” said Sena just after the speech.

In a marked diversion from the address given Wednesday night by vice-presidential running mate Sarah Palin, McCain limited his attacks on Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama to just a few jabs.

Also, unlike Palin, McCain appeared to reach out to the millions of Americans who are suffering with job losses, home foreclosures, unaffordable health care and the rising cost of gas and groceries. 

But McCain, a Vietnam veteran, spent most of his time onstage talking about his time as a prisoner of war and describing how it changed him from a cocky young soldier into a humble man who grew to love his country and not take it for granted.

In fact, much of the night took on a valedictory tone, as speaker after speaker told of McCains valor as a soldier and prisoner of war.
That part of McCains story scores huge points with New Mexicans, especially Hispanic New Mexicans, many of whom are veterans themselves and share a deep sense of patriotism, said Ivette Barajas, southwest regional communication director for the McCain campaign.

Barajas said she spent most of Thursday doing interviews in Spanish with CNN Espanol, Radio Bilingue and Voices of America.
Most of the interviews focused on the Republican Partys efforts to reach out to Latino voters, she said.

In addition to appreciating his military service and sacrifice, some Hispanics tend to like McCain because he stood against others in his party to support more humane policies regarding immigration, said Barajas.

Before McCains speech on Thursday, I asked Barajas what she thought about criticism from some commentators that Palins speech the night before lacked much mention of the economic woes affecting many Americans.

“We have to understand that this was her introductory speech,” said Barajas.  “There will be plenty of time for her to get into the deep issues. Last night, it was really important for her to address the criticisms that she was not qualified to lead.”