"My heartfelt thanks to all of you, who helped me win this nomination, and stood by me when the odds were long. I won't let you down," McCain said.
The speech capped the republican national convention.
Before thousands of people there and millions around the world, McCain promised his own kind of change and talked about how the theme of his campaign, "Country First" is not just a slogan, but how he lives his life and how he says he will lead as president.
"I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's. I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency; for its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again. I wasn't my own man anymore. I was my country's," McCain said.
McCain is now officially the Republican Party's nominee for president of the United States talking about his love of country, promising now to help change it.
"Let me offer an advance warning to the old, big spending, do nothing, me first, country second Washington crowd: change is coming," McCain said. "You know, I've been called a maverick; someone who marches to the beat of his own drum. Sometimes it's meant as a compliment and sometimes it's not. What it really means is 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."
Senator McCain also had a message for Sen. Barack Obama.
"A word to Senator Obama and his supporters. We'll go at it over the next two months. That's the nature of these contests, and there are big differences between us. But you have my respect and admiration. Despite our differences, much more unites us than divides us. /CUT But let there be no doubt, my friends, we will when this election," McCain said.
He then declared their differences on Iraq and made a pledge on taxes. McCain also took pride in his choice for vice president, Palin.
"I'm very proud to have introduced our next vice president to the country," McCain said. "But I can't wait until I introduce her to Washington."
McCain's biggest support came from his wife, Cindy.
"It's going to take someone of unusual strength and character - someone exactly like my husband - to lead us through the reefs and currents that lie ahead. I know John. You can trust his hand at the wheel," she said.
Illinois delegation reacts to speech
McCain's task was to reassure skeptical GOP conservatives that he's with them even though they've always doubted it. Then he had to reach out to the independents who have always been fascinated by his maverick streak and convince people that his promise of change is better than Obama's because of his experience and his Republican ideology.
The Illinois delegation was excited, but they weren't expecting an electrifying speech like Palin's. But her speech did set the table for Thursday night by demonstrating she has the charisma to compliment his substance and his gravitas.
State Sen. Dan Rutherford came to the convention as a Mitt Romney delegate and was skeptical of McCain.
"I think he did an outstanding job, and I'm not just saying that because I like John McCain. But I wanted to see what he could really do," Rutherford said. "I think tonight America saw a mature statesman that delineated very specifically what he was going to do on issues domestically and in regards to foreign policy and think his delivery was what America needed. They needed that maturity to stand there compared to what took place in Denver. I think he did a very, very fine job."
Rutherford was asked whether McCain can appeal to a GOP that likes President George Bush.
"He embraced George Bush at the beginning of the program. He talked about George Bush, appreciating President Bush," Rutherford said. "He's going to change things, but he's standing by the tack he's taken on - the military and dealing with the areas that are important for the base, the economy and jobs. I think the man did a great job."
Illinois campaign deputy co-chair Julie Brady said she thought McCain was able to bridge the gap and pique the interest of both Bush supporters and independent voters.
"I think he did a great job of appealing to all the people," Brady said. "He made it very clear that his administration is not going to be about John McCain and Sarah Palin. His administration is going to be about us… And that appeals to everybody. And it's time."
Brady said that McCain's compelling personal narrative of the entire prisoner of war time and the way it left a mark on him as man of his country, not a man unto himself, was effective.
"That story has inspired everyone. It will always inspire everyone. I've always wondered, when he made that decision to stay there and not go home, did he have any idea that that was going to inspire people for years to come? You always wonder," Brady said.
Ramping up to the speech
Thursday was set to be McCain's night. His campaign said that he's going to try to differentiate himself from Obama and make the case that he not only talks about change but has a record of it.
The stage was transformed Thursday after Palin's speech. A test run of confetti came just before McCain checked out his new stage which was being reconfigured for McCain's big night to address the delegates and the voters. The extended platform reached 30 feet into the crowd, and McCain said he hopes it will give the speech a town hall feel. But can he live up to last week's stadium speech given by his opponent?
"He's already lived up to everything that I've ever wanted in a president. So I'm not really concerned how the speech comes off. I'm concerned about the substance of the speech. I know what the substance is going to be - a proactive reformer for this country. He's going to get the energy issue under control. And he's going to keep our taxes low. He's going keep our country safe," said Julie Brady, McCain deputy co-chair, Illinois.
ABC political director David Chalian said he expects McCain to bury the Bush years.
"He's going to introduce the McCain era. He will present himself as a maverick, reformer and independent-minded politician," Chalian said.
And at least one woman who wanted Hillary Clinton for president believes that and is supporting McCain at the RNC.
"He promised us that he would appoint more women to top-level positions than any other presidency in history. And by the appointment of Governor Palin, he has shown us that he's man of his word. And we are very, very excited about it. We're sorry it isn't Hillary," said Cynthia Ruccia, former Clinton supporter.
McCain was scheduled to speak at 9:30 p.m. Thursday. The speakers before him include his wife, Cindy, and former homeland security director Tom Ridge.
"I have heard it It's marvelous," Cindy McCain said of the speech. "He's really in good shape for this speech. He's excited about giving it."
"I will reach out my hand to anyone to help me get this country moving again," McCain said in remarks prepared for the a prime time address. "I have that record and the scars to prove it. Senator Obama does not," he said of his rival for the White House, Sen. Barack Obama.
McCain also invoked the five years he spent in a North Vietnamese prison. "I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's," he said. "I was never the same again. I wasn't my own man anymore. I was my country's."
McCain's speech was expected to provide the climax to the four-day convention at the Xcel Energy Center. His wife, Cindy, admitted Thursday that she was nervous about addressing delegates herself.
"I'd like people to know what makes me work and what makes me tick and who I am, what I'm all about and where I come from," Cindy McCain told "Good Morning America" on ABC. "I have an interesting story to tell as well in that it combines the two of us and makes us a couple and what we will represent."
Palin joined other Republican speakers Wednesday night in praising McCain as a man of character, a former Vietnam prisoner of war who had spent his early career in the military and had sought to change the ways of politics in Washington.
"In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers. And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change," said Palin, toying with the central theme in Obama's campaign.
Palin's 19-year-old son, Track, ships out for Iraq next week with his Army unit. The governor was unflinching as she contrasted McCain's military record with a lack of armed service by Obama and Biden.
"There is only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you in places where winning means survival and defeat means death -- and that man is John McCain," she said.
On the Net:
McCain campaign: http://www.johnmccain.com/
Obama campaign: http://www.barackobama.com/index.php
The Associated Press contributed to this report.