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Delegates say McCain must be himself to ensure victory over Obama

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ST. PAUL -- Minnesotans who helped make John McCain the Republican presidential nominee said he will win if voters get to know the McCain they know.

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As McCain closed the Republican National Convention Thursday by accepting his party's nomination, Minnesota delegates said the Arizona senator must keep three things in mind as he looks to the general election.

McCain needs to articulate his reform-minded vision for government and lay out a plan for the country to become energy independent, delegates said as they wrapped up their convention.

Most importantly, though, they said McCain simply needs to sell himself to voters because his life story, experiences and political accomplishments make him a compelling choice for president. And with two months remaining in the campaign, they said, McCain should not do anything to alter his image as a war hero, maverick lawmaker and politician ready to shake up Washington.

"I just want him to be the man he's always been," said delegate Mike Charron, a former Woodbury-area state lawmaker who said McCain has steadily been climbing in polls. "Look where he was six months ago. He's just been himself."

A man who has been in Washington 18 years and is a bit of a Republican maverick himself had one suggestion to pave the way for a McCain win.

"McCain has to be John McCain," said U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad, who is retiring after serving nine terms. "He's an authentic all-American hero."

Ramstad, a Jamestown, N.D., native now serving Twin Cities suburbs in Congress, warned McCain not to try to change who he is.

"All he has to do is communicate who he is," Ramstad said.

Unlike many politicians, he added, McCain has lived what he preaches -- family values, balancing the budget and other important Republican ideals. "He doesn't have to talk about it, he lives it."

Delegates say McCain not only has to be himself on the campaign trail, but he also needs to make a convincing case that he is right on key issues important to voters.

An Air Force veteran volunteering for McCain's campaign said the Arizona senator's decorated military history -- he was a prisoner during the Vietnam war -- is important to voters. That experience would help guide McCain on war issues, said Terry Flower, an alternate delegate from Hastings.

"We are facing a threat from terrorism that we need to address, and he understands the war on terrorism," Flower said.

Jennifer Wilson, a delegate from Hermantown, said McCain must lay out his plan to reach energy independence. Gasoline prices and other energy issues are pinching Americans' wallets, she said, and they are looking for presidential leadership on that issue.

"He's a proven leader," she said.

Some political observers have said McCain's age -- he just turned 72 -- could make it tougher to compete with Democrat Barack Obama for the youth vote.

To attract young voters, McCain must talk about issues important to them, but not talk down to them, said Bethany Dorobiala, a 21-year-old alternate delegate from Woodbury.

"It's definitely important when talking to the youth vote that we get treated just like any other (voting) bloc," said Dorobiala, who leads a college Republican organization.

Young voters will want to know more about McCain's positions on economic issues and on energy because they can relate to those topics, Dorobiala said.

Voters will consider the presidential candidate as well as his running mate, said delegates thrilled that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is the vice presidential candidate.

"You need to talk about the McCain-Palin ticket," Flower said, echoing other delegates' beliefs that both candidates are reformers. "Together they appeal to an awful lot of people."

One of Minnesota's Republican leaders, Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall, said McCain does have to deliver a message: "He needs to tell in a straightforward manner how he is going to shake up Washington."

But for McCain, actions speak louder than words. His pick of Palin shows he is serious about shaking up things, Seifert said. She has fought the Republican establishment, much like McCain himself has.

"He needs to be the reformer, the changer," Seifert said.

The McCain-Palin ticket is heavy on reform, which will appeal to voters unsatisfied with status-quo government, Charron predicted.

"It's about time somebody kicked butt and took names, and these two are going to do it," he said.

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