As recently as 10 days ago, few political experts would have predicted that maverick Sen. John McCain would have been greeted with such joyous enthusiasm, even at a convention dedicated to promoting him.
But when McCain spoke Thursday night, on a stage reconfigured so he could be surrounded by the audience as he is in his beloved town hall meetings, the crowd that had been energized the night before by running mate Sarah Palin exploded into a frenzy of cheers and a sea of blue McCain-Palin signs.
Before McCain cold get into his prepared remarks, the crowd interrupted again with a full minute of a chant of “U-S-A, U-S-A!!” And when anti-war protesters, previously out of sight, emerged and screamed at McCain, chants of “U-S-A” drowned them out.
A year ago, McCain's campaign was declared dead by most pundits. But a near-miraculous political comeback, combined with Palin's home run and strong assists from former foes like Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson earlier in the week, had primed the convention for a geyser of goodwill for McCain.
There was the lady with the campaign button that said “The kind of change I believe in,” with photos of Supreme Court justices Samuel Alito and John Roberts.
The entire Texas delegation was dressed in red, white and blue cowboy clothes and cowboy hats. In the Colorado delegation, everyone wore red. Half the Virginians were in t-shirts that said “Virginia Loves McCain-Palin.”
And there was former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, once a Democrat who President Ronald Reagan asked McCain to shadow back in 1983, hoping to convince Roemer to keep crossing the political aisle to vote for the Gipper's policies. Showing a loyalty 25 years old, Roemer was smiling up a storm.
All were celebrating in their own ways — but there was no doubt they were celebrating, from the heart.