PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (AP) - Republican John McCain officially entered the 2008 presidential race Wednesday, stressing his experience honed in war and Washington as he sought to revive his struggling campaign.
"We face formidable challenges, but I'm not afraid of them. I'm prepared for them," said the four-term Arizona senator, ex-Navy pilot and former Vietnam captive.
In a speech in the first-in-the-nation primary state, McCain stressed the wisdom he's acquired over time rather than the decades as he sought to make the case that he's the most qualified to succeed President Bush amid challenges at home and abroad.
"I'm not the youngest candidate. But I am the most experienced," said the 70-year-old who could be the oldest first-term president. "I know how to fight and how to make peace. I know who I am and what I want to do."
The announcement, seven years after he lost the GOP nomination to George W. Bush, was no surprise; McCain's intentions have long been clear as he has spent months campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and elsewhere.
Still, the event - and a planned four-day romp through early primary states and his Arizona home - gives McCain an opportunity to restart his campaign after a troubling four-month period. He went from presumed front-runner for the GOP nomination at year's end to trailing former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in national polls and ex-Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts in money raised.
At the same time, McCain became perhaps forever linked to the Iraq war when he assumed the role of top pitchman for Bush's troop increase. The decline in his popularity has mirrored the waning public support for the four-year-old conflict.
With little choice, McCain recently embraced the war with vigor and staked his candidacy to its outcome.
"I'm not running for president to be somebody, but to do something; to do the hard but necessary things not the easy and needless things," he said. "I'm not running to leave our biggest problems to an unluckier generation of leaders, but to fix them now, and fix them well."
He acknowledged mistakes in Iraq, argued that the country was unprepared when it went to war and vowed never to repeat the errors.
In an unnamed criticism of both the Bush administration and GOP rival Rudy Giuliani, McCain said the nation "won't accept that firemen and policemen are unable to communicate with each other in an emergency because they don't have the same radio frequency" - a problem that existed on Sept. 11, 2001, in New York.
"They won't accept government's failure to deliver bottled water to dehydrated babies or rescue the infirm from a hospital with no electricity," he said - a reference to the failings during Hurricane Katrina.