Video: McCain's new ad

updated 3/28/2008 12:50:54 PM ET 2008-03-28T16:50:54

Republican presidential candidate John McCain launched his first television ad of the general election Friday, portraying himself as a courageous leader with the knowledge and experience to keep the country safe as a wartime commander in chief.

"The American president Americans have been waiting for," the ad says,o juxtaposing footage of the 71-year-old Arizona senator campaigning with clips of himself imprisoned in Vietnam three decades ago.

Throughout, images of him then and now are superimposed with newspaper headlines that call him a hero who embodies American values, has a vision for the future and is ready now to serve from day one.

"What must a president believe about us? About America? That she is worth protecting? That liberty is priceless? Our people, honorable? Our future, prosperous, remarkable and free?" the 60-second ad says. "And, what must we believe about that president? What does he think? Where has he been? Has he walked the walk?"

For now, the ad will run only at a strong level throughout the swing state of New Mexico, with other states to follow in the coming weeks. In the meantime, aides are counting on free media as portions of the commercial will run on cable and broadcast news programs nationally in the coming days.

McCain has lagged far behind his Democratic rivals in fundraising, money that would finance ads. In February, Democratic Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton raised more than $80 million. McCain raised $11 million and had just $8 million cash on hand, according to the latest financial reports.

A head start on Democrats
Coming seven months before the election, and as Obama and Clinton continue to fight for their party's nod, the ad campaign is part of a broader push by the Republican Party's presidential pick to introduce himself to voters on his terms.

In that vein, the commercial coincides with a "Service to America" tour next week in which McCain will give a series of speeches at places that shaped his life, from the Naval Academy in Maryland to a military base in Mississippi.

While he is well-known among Republican loyalists, his strategists argue that the country knows little about his life story and that he must work now to fill in any gaps in knowledge and lay out the themes of his campaign.

He hopes to start defining himself before Democrats have a chance to do it.

They have been casting McCain as a Washington insider who offers nothing more than a continuation of the policies of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney at a time when the public is hungry for change, a majority disapproves of the current White House occupant and frustration is high over the Iraq war. McCain has closely linked his candidacy to the conflict, entering its sixth year.

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Democratic-leaning groups operating independently of the party are readying their own slate of advertisements to offset McCain's message and criticize him while the race between Obama and Clinton drags on.

McCain, who has served in Congress for nearly three decades, is trying to counter the image of a Washington insider. His argument is that he has the longest record of pushing reform in the nation's capital.

He also seeks to appeal to a wide swath of voters, speaking to their sense of patriotism as the country fights wars in Iraq and globally against terrorists. Neither conflict, however, is mentioned directly although both are implied.

At one point in the ad, McCain stands behind a podium at a campaign rally, saying: "Keep that faith. Keep your courage. Stick together. Stay strong. Do not yield. Stand up. We're Americans. And we'll never surrender."

Then, he is a young Naval aviator being interviewed as he lays in a hospital bed after being shot down and tortured in Vietnam.

"What is your rank?"

"Lt. Commander in the Navy," McCain responds.

"And your official number?"

"624787," he says.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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