ST. PAUL, Minn. - (AP) - John McCain, a POW turned politicalrebel, vowed Thursday night to vanquish the "constant partisanrancor" that grips Washington as he launched his fall campaign forthe White House. "Change is coming," he promised the roaringRepublican National Convention and a prime-time televisionaudience.

"Fight with me. Fight with me. Fight with me. Fight for what'sright for our country," he urged in a convention crescendo. To repeated cheers from his delegates, McCain made only passingreference to an unpopular George W. Bush and criticized fellowRepublicans as well as Democratic rival Barack Obama in reachingout to independents and swing voters who will pick the nextpresident.

"We were elected to change Washington, and we let Washingtonchange us," he said of the Republicans who controlled Congress fora dozen years before they were voted out of office in 2006.

As for Obama, he said, "I will keep taxes low and cut themwhere I can. My opponent will raise them. I will cut governmentspending. He will increase it."

McCain's wife, Cindy, and ticketmate Sarah Palin and her husbandjoined him on stage as tens of thousands red, white and blueballoons cascaded from high above the convention floor.

Unlike Obama's speech a week ago, McCain offered no soaringoratory until his speech-ending summons to fight for the country'sfuture.

But his own measured style left the hall in cheers, and as ishis habit in campaign stops around the country, he stepped off thestage to plunge into the crowd after his speech. Palin joined him,embraced by the jubilant throng.

McCain touched only briefly on the Iraq war - a conflict thatObama has vowed to end. "I fought for the right strategy and moretroops in Iraq, when it wasn't a popular thing to do," theRepublican said, adding that in the months since, thelong-suffering nation had been spared from defeat. McCain'sappearance was the climax of the final night of the partyconvention, coming after delegates made Palin the first female vicepresidential nominee in Republican history.

"She stands up for what's right and she doesn't let anyone tellher to sit down," McCain said of the woman who has faced intensescrutiny in the week since she was picked.

"And let me offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending,do-nothing, me-first, country-second Washington crowd: Change iscoming," McCain declared.

McCain and Palin were departing their convention cityimmediately after the Arizona senator's acceptance speech, boundfor Wisconsin and an early start on the final weeks of the WhiteHouse campaign.

McCain, at 72 bidding to become the oldest first-term president,drew a roar from the convention crowd when he walked out onto thestage lighted by a single spotlight. He was introduced by a videothat dwelt heavily on his time spent as a prisoner of war inVietnam and as a member of Congress, hailed for a "faithfulunyielding love for America, country first."

"USA, USA, USA," chanted the crowd in the hall.

McCain faced a delicate assignment as he formally accepted hisparty's presidential nomination: presenting his credentials as areformer willing to take on his own party and stressing hisindependence from an unpopular President Bush - all withoutbreaking faith with his Republican base.

He set about it methodically.

"After we've won, we're going to reach out our hand to anywilling patriot, make this government start working for youagain," he said, and he pledged to invite Democrats andindependents to serve in his administration.

He mentioned Bush only in passing, as the leader who led thecountry through the days after the terror attacks on Sept. 11,2001.

And there was plenty for conservative Republicans to cheer -from his pledge to free the country from the grip of its dependenceon foreign oil, to a vow to have schools answer to parents andstudents rather than "unions and entrenched bureaucrats."

A man who has clashed repeatedly with Republicans in Congress,he said proudly, "I've been called a maverick. Sometimes it'smeant as a compliment and sometimes it's not. What it really meansis I understand who I work for.

"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."

Thousands of red, white and blue balloons nestled in nettingabove the convention floor, to be released on cue for thetraditional celebratory convention finale.

Given McCain's political mission, it was left to otherRepublicans to deliver much of the criticism aimed at Obama.

In the race for the White House, "It's not about building arecord, it's about having one," said former Pennsylvania Gov. TomRidge. "It's not about talking pretty, it's about talkingstraight."

McCain invoked the five years he spent in a North Vietnameseprison. "I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner insomeone else's," he said. "I was never the same again. I wasn'tmy own man anymore. I was my country's."

The last night of the McCain-Palin convention also marked theend of an intensive stretch of politics with the potential toreshape the race for the White House. Democrats held their ownconvention last week in Denver, nominating Delaware Sen. JosephBiden as running mate for Obama, whose own acceptance speech drewan estimated 84,000 partisans to an outdoor football stadium.

The polls indicate a close race between McCain and Obama, at 47a generation younger than his Republican opponent, with the outcomelikely to be decided in scattered swing states in the industrialMidwest and the Southwest.

Ahead lie the traditional major checkpoints - presidential andvice presidential debates, millions of dollars in ads - but alsothe unscripted, spontaneous moments that can take on outsizedimportance in the race to pick a president.

Before he spoke Thursday night, Cindy McCain recommended herhusband to the crowd - and the nation. "If Americans want straighttalk and the plain truth they should take a good close look at JohnMcCain, a man tested and true who's never wavered in his devotionto our country," she said. She called him "a man who's served inWashington without ever becoming a Washington insider."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also had a speaking slot, and heused it to criticize McCain's rival. He said Obama and the liberalgroup were the only ones who didn't realize that Bush'sdecision to deploy additional troops to Iraq last year hadsucceeded.

Ridge's turn at the podium came after he had been mentionedprominently in speculation about a running mate.

That was an honor that went unexpectedly to Palin, the firstfemale vice presidential candidate in party history, a 44-year-oldAlaska governor virtually unknown nationally a week ago.

In the days since, she has faced a storm of scrutiny, some of itrelating to her tenure as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and her time asgovernor, but most involving her 17-year-old unmarried daughter whois pregnant.

For the most part, McCain's aides have kept Palin out of publicsight while vociferously defending her readiness to becomepresident. She emerged Wednesday night during prime time to delivera smiling, sarcastic attack on Obama that generated roars ofapproval - and acceptance - from the delegates.

She followed up in the hours before McCain's conventionappearance with a meeting with Republican governors and afundraising appeal that blamed Democrats for spreading"misinformation and flat-out lies" about her family and her.

Even so, there were fresh questions about her readiness to sitone chair away from the Oval Office.

McCain has cited her authority over the Alaska National Guard asone example. But in a memo last spring, Air Force Maj. Gen. CraigCampbell warned that "missions are at risk" in the state's unitsbecause of a personnel shortage. The lack of qualified airmen,Campbell said, "has reached a crisis level."

In an interview on Wednesday with The Associated Press, Campbellsaid the situation has improved since then, but not enough toeliminate his concern that shortages will result in the burnout oftroops.

McCain won the presidential nomination late Wednesday night inan anticlimactic vote that followed a campaign lasting most of adecade. He first ran for the White House in 2000, but lost theRepublican nomination to Bush in a bruising struggle. He began thecurrent campaign the Republican front-runner, but his chancesseemed to collapse last winter when opposition to the Iraq war roseamong independents and conservatives grew upset over his backingfor legislation to give illegal immigrants a path towardcitizenship.

In one of the most remarkable comebacks in recent times, herecovered to win the New Hampshire primary in early January, thenwrapped up the nomination on Feb. 5 with big-state primaryvictories on Super Tuesday.

Obama, campaigning in swing-state Pennsylvania on Thursday, saidhe wasn't surprised at Palin's criticism of him, and said Democratsintended to focus on her record.

"I think she's got a compelling story, but I assume she wantsto be treated the same way that guys want to be treated," he said."I've been through this 19 months, she's been through it - what -four days so far?"

Obama's campaign announced it had raised roughly $10 millionfrom more than 130,000 donors since Palin delivered her speechWednesday night.

Outside the hall, police on horseback thwarted plans by anti-wardemonstrators to march on the convention hall.

Scattered protesters inside interrupted his speech briefly nearthe start. He dismissed them, telling the crowd not to be divertedby "ground noise and static."

Not far from the convention center, police rounded up about 200protesters on a bridge over Interstate 94. Caught up were reportersfrom several media outlets, including two AP reporters.