TAMPA, Fla. – When he last stepped on a Republican National Convention stage, the GOP was John McCain’s party.
It was 2008 and the Arizona senator had just been picked by delegates in St. Paul, Minn., as their presidential nominee.
McCain stepped on the convention stage again Wednesday in Tampa, but this time he was there to deliver a speech on foreign policy and he stood in the shadow of current nominee Mitt Romney.
“I had hopes once of addressing you under different circumstances,” McCain told delegates Wednesday. “But our fellow Americans had another plan four years ago, and I accept their decision.”
Constantin Querard, an Arizona delegate from Avondale who was in the sea of delegates in St. Paul in 2008 convention, was back in the crowd Wednesday in Tampa. He recalled the feelings he had four years ago as he listened to the senator who represented not only the Republican Party as its presidential nominee, but also the state of Arizona.
“We all have fun watching the Super Bowl, but it’s more fun when your team is in the Super Bowl,” Querard said before McCain’s speech Wednesday. “You’ve got the jersey on and all that kind of stuff. That will be the difference between this time and last time.”
Querard is still proud that McCain represents Arizona in the Senate, but he said the senator appears a little differently to him at this convention.
McCain first ran for president in 2000 and again in 2008. With almost a decade of presidential aspirations left behind, Querard sees a calmer, more relaxed man working in Washington.
“That has to be an adjustment for him to make,” said Querard. “Even if the election was four or five years away, there was a lot of work to be done every day, every week to lay the groundwork.
“But that goal is gone so he gets to reassess and refocus on the job of being a senator,” he said.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said she talks to McCain often. She agrees that his focus has changed.
“If you’re running for president you’re really, really busy,” said Brewer. “Now he has more time to take care of business in the Senate. He’s a hard worker and has more energy than anybody.”
McCain spoke on a night that featured light-hearted video tributes to former Presidents George and George W. Bush, and a tribute to Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, an unsuccessful presidential nominee this year. McCain, a Vietnam veteran who was a prisoner of war there, took the stage after two other veterans.
He was received warmly by the convention crowd, with the Arizona delegation serenading him with a chorus of “Happy Birthday” for his 76th birthday.
Judy Griffin, a delegate from Woodstock, Ga., who is attending her first convention, said she voted for McCain in the 2008 presidential election.
“I think people now respect him for the sacrifice that he made to our country as a POW and the process of running for president,” Griffin said. “I think he has moved into that space and time that he’s looked at as an honored veteran and senior statesman.”
Griffin agrees with Querard, that McCain is more relaxed now.
She said that when McCain last appeared at a convention, political tensions were high, the economy was low and being a Republican presidential nominee was not easy.
Though political tensions still seem to be high and the economy remains a focus this election year, McCain is a name that draws attention, especially on topics like foreign policy, according to Querard.
“It’s where his strength is,” said Querard. “He brings something to the convention. He has good appeal to the independent voters, to the moderate voters, the swing voters in a lot of states. It makes sense that they put him in the program.”
Before McCain left the stage in Tampa, he endorsed Mitt Romney, asking his fellow Americans to elect, “the next leader of the free world, my friend, Governor Mitt Romney,” a man he beat for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.