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With odds against him, McCain still feels lucky

  • Story Highlights
  • Sen. John McCain will accept Republican presidential nomination on Thursday
  • McCain admits Republicans abandoned principles with out-of-control spending
  • McCain hopes to show voters he can bring about the "right kind of change"
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By John King
CNN Chief National Correspondent
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ST. PAUL, Minnesota (CNN) -- Move over Gustav, Bush and even Sarah Palin. This is John McCain's night. In his words, it's a moment "of awe and humility."

Sen. John McCain says he is the person to bring the "right kind of change" to the country.

Sen. John McCain says he is the person to bring the "right kind of change" to the country.

Forty-one years after he was shot down over Hanoi and 25 years after he first came to Washington as a freshman GOP congressman, McCain will accept the presidential nomination of a Republican Party with which he has often sparred.

"When I think of getting the nomination of the party of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan -- to think that a guy who stood fifth from the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy could get the nomination of his party, of the Republican Party, is quite a phenomenal thing and every once in a while, I do pinch myself," he said.

When McCain's speech is over, there will be 62 days left in what has been a remarkable and surprising presidential election cycle. He also knows the odds are against him, given political dynamics that significantly favor the Democrats and Barack Obama.

McCain hopes, through his acceptance speech followed by the nine-week sprint to Election Day, to make the case that Obama is not up to the challenge of being commander in chief and that Americans, dealing with a struggling economy, would suffer higher taxes if they give the Democrats control of the White House and Congress. Video Watch McCain officially win GOP nomination »

"I admire Sen. Obama and what he's done," McCain told CNN in one of a series of interviews this spring and summer. "I think what I have got to do is show people the differences in how we are going to change Washington and America and the differences in our positions and portray them in a substantive and, hopefully, a fairly eloquent fashion."

The stakes are enormous. Heading into those final nine weeks, Obama leads not only in national polls, but in a CNN state-by-state analysis of the Electoral College. In the latest analysis, Obama is leading or viewed as likely to win in states that carry 243 electoral votes, just 27 shy of the 270 needed to win the presidency. See how the electoral map has changed

McCain both smiles and shrugs when asked about the trends that favor the Democrats, everything from President Bush's approval rating to a giant percentage of Americans who believe the country is on the wrong track.

He says there is a "deep-seated desire for change ... which is certainly a well justified sentiment."

Even as he prepares to accept the GOP nomination, McCain has some tough words for his party.

"We Republicans, to a degree, abandoned our principles when we let spending get out of control," McCain told CNN. "We let so much of government and special interests influencing all these things. We've got to say to our party members and to the American people, 'Look, we're going to bring about change, the right kind of change, and we're guilty for some of the causes of the problems we have.'"

Much of the convention has been dedicated to his personal story -- the son and grandson of Navy admirals who, at one point, seemed on a path to join them, but then could not because of his injuries from Vietnam. Instead, he chose a career in politics.

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McCain laughed when asked if he has ever considered the fact that being president would trump admiral. "Ha ha! Yeah, I have thought about that on occasion."

McCain also reflected on the possibility of losing: "I still say I am the luckiest guy you ever interviewed. ... I've been so fortunate to have the life that I've led and the friends that I've had and family and the opportunities have been marvelous. I will go wherever I'm going to go with nothing but gratitude for having the opportunity to serve."

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