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John McCain aide Mark Salter working on the boss' convention speech

August 8, 2008 |  9:39 am

DES MOINES -- Mark Salter used his recent holiday on Penobscot Bay in Maine to write a first draft of  John McCain's Sept. 3 acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention, according to a senior campaign official.

Salter, McCain's longtime confidante and co-author of several books about the candidate, usually rose at 5 a.m. to tap away on a laptop computer on his deck, although one morning he stopped to watch a doe and two fawns wander by. Whether that will give rise to jokes in the speech about Obambi, as some in McCain's campaign derisively call Barack Obama, is not known.

The final draft was seven typed pages, 14-point font, which is "bumping up against (McCain's) comfort level," one official said. McCain usually takes three minutes to read a page, but with applause, that should stretch to a traditional 30 or 40 minute speech.

Salter sent his draft to Steve Schmidt, the Bush White House veteran who now runs McCain's campaign, for comment. Subsequent drafts will be shared with a wider group of four or five aides.

Salter batted ideas around with McCain before sitting down to type, but otherwJohn_mccain_aide_mark_salter_is_harise drew on little else. While some speech writers famously study scores of former speeches, Salter went back and reread only one: George H.W. Bush's speech two decades ago to the GOP convention at the Superdome in New Orleans.

In that address, Bush famously promised "Read my lips: No new taxes." Ironically the Superdome achieved notoriety under the current President Bush. Thousands of refugees took shelter there after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2006, and their misery formed the backdrop for countless stories about the current Bush administration's stunningly slow response.

Salter, who was at the 1988 convention, considered the Bush speech a game-changer. Until then, the Democratic nominee, Michael Dukakis, led in many polls, including one that supposedly detected a 17-point gap as he came out of the Democratic convention.

McCain will fly to St. Paul on Wednesday, Sept. 3, the penultimate day of the convention. He therefore will not cross paths with George Bush, who apparently will speak on Sept. 1, the first night. Dick Cheney will also attend, aides said Friday, but his role has not been determined.

"He'll speak on Friday morning," one official said. "That's a joke." The convention ends Thursday night.

Aides said McCain probably will vacation at his rustic compound near Sedona, Ariz., from Aug. 19 to Aug. 24, keeping him out of the news during the Democratic National Convention Aug. 25-28.

-- Bob Drogin

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