ST. PAUL, Minnesota (CNN) -- John McCain vowed Thursday to "shake up Washington" and said he's prepared to reach across the aisle to get the country "back on the road to prosperity and peace."
"We need to change the way government does almost everything," he told the Republican National Convention.
"Fight with me. Fight for what's right for our country. Fight for the ideals and character of a free people."
He said his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, is "just the right partner" to help lead the change.
"She's tackled tough problems like energy independence and corruption," he said. "She stands up for what's right and she doesn't let anyone tell her to sit down." Watch "We're going to win this election" »
He added, "Let me offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first, country-second Washington crowd: Change is coming."
Change is a centerpiece of Democratic rival Barack Obama's campaign. iReport.com: "McCain sealed the deal"
McCain contrasted himself with Obama on a couple occasions, while offering a bipartisan tone.
"There are big differences between us. But you have my respect and admiration. Despite our differences, much more unites us than divides us. We are fellow Americans," said McCain, a senator from Arizona.
He said there would be Democrats and independents in a McCain presidential administration. Watch a Democrat call McCain's speech 'underwhelming' »
"Let's use the best ideas from both sides. Instead of fighting over who gets the credit, let's try sharing it," he said.
He also scolded the Republican Party, saying some members "gave in to the temptations of corruption. We lost their trust when rather than reform government, both parties made it bigger." See photos of McCain center stage at the GOP »
McCain touched on a number of issues that would appeal to the GOP's conservative base, saying, "we believe in a strong defense, work, faith, service, a culture of life, personal responsibility, the rule of law and judges who dispense justice impartially and don't legislate from the bench."
Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton blasted McCain, saying he "talked about bipartisanship, but didn't mention that he's been a Bush partisan 90 percent of the time, that he's run a Karl Rove campaign, and that he wants to continue this president's disastrous economic and foreign policies for another four years."
"With John McCain, it's more of the same," Burton said.
In a speech before a giant screen showing an American flag waving against a blue background, McCain talked about the economy and education and promised to put the people first.
"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," he said, to cheers from the crowd.
McCain portrayed himself as a fighter, saying he tackled corruption and big spenders, regardless of which party they came from. Watch "change is coming" »
"I've fought to get million-dollar checks out of our elections. I've fought lobbyists who stole from Indian tribes. I fought crooked deals in the Pentagon. I fought tobacco companies and trial lawyers, drug companies and union bosses."
McCain vowed to embark on the "most ambitious national project in decades" through a bold energy plan that would produce more energy within the United States.
"We are going to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don't like us very much," he said, drawing some of the loudest cheers of the night.
He contrasted his aims with those of his opponent, who, he said, would raise taxes and institute a health care system that would force "small businesses to cut jobs, reduce wages and force families into a government run health care system where a bureaucrat stands between you and your doctor."
McCain referred to the 5½ years he spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, explaining that the experience changed his life. "I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else's," he said. "I wasn't my own man anymore. I was my country's."
His remarks on Iraq were brief, reminding delegates that he fought for the "right strategy and more troops ... when it wasn't a popular thing to do." Obama has said he would have U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by 2010.
McCain was interrupted at least once by protesters from the anti-war group Code Pink, who were shouted down by delegates chanting "USA." The protesters were removed from the hall. Watch protester disrupt speech »
The nominee weighed in, telling the crowd not to be distracted "by the static. ... Americans want us to stop yelling at each other."
During his speech, McCain hailed President Bush "for leading us in those dark days following the worst attack on American soil in our history, and keeping us safe from another attack many thought was inevitable."
Delegates gave the speech rave reviews.
"He is the only man that can lead this country in the time that we're in now," said Will Barfoot of Montgomery, Alabama.
Karen Bonadio of California added, "I'm so fired up."
McCain was preceded by his wife, Cindy, who described her husband as a leader with a "sense of history and a clear view of the future."
"I was taught Americans can look at the world and ask either, what do other countries think of us? Or we can look at ourselves and ask, what would our forefathers make of us, and what will our children say of us?" she said. iReport.com: Share your reaction to the convention speeches
"That's a big challenge. In living up to it, we know the security and prosperity of our nation is about a lot more than just politics."
She then said McCain has "shown the value of self-sacrifice by daily example."
"His courageous service to America in war and peace leaves no doubt what our forefathers would make of him."
As she spoke, delegates held up "We Love Cindy" signs.
"You can trust his hand at the wheel. But you know what, I've always thought it's a good idea to have a woman's hand on the wheel as well," she said to loud cheers. "So, how about Gov. Sarah Palin!"
Republicans nominated the Alaska governor Thursday to be their vice presidential candidate, making her the first woman to run for the office as a Republican.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham praised McCain's character, saying he is leading the nation to victory in Iraq by his unflinching support for the surge. Watch Graham say the surge is working »
"We know the surge has worked," Graham said. "The only people who deny it are Barack Obama and his buddies at MoveOn.org. Why won't they admit it?
"Because Barack Obama's campaign is built around us losing in Iraq."
Graham said it was McCain's insistence on the surge, when thousands more U.S. combat troops were deployed in Iraq in January 2007, that "stopped Congress from losing this war."
"Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying Barack Obama doesn't care. I'm just saying he doesn't get it," he said, echoing Obama's dig at McCain during Obama's acceptance speech last week.
"The surge was a test for Barack Obama. He failed miserably. Our troops deserve a commander in chief who acknowledges their success, has walked in their shoes, speaks their language, shares their sufferings and will lead them to victory in a war we cannot afford to lose.
"That person is my dear friend John McCain." Watch Graham on Obama: "He doesn't get it" »
Graham is one of McCain's closest friends in Congress. Another close friend, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, said McCain has "unique qualifications for the presidency."
"I speak to you about a warrior who has sometimes stood alone ... and always shown the way," he said.
Palin was nominated earlier Thursday on a voice vote that Sen. Mitch McConnell recognized as unanimous approval, prompting chants of "Sarah! Sarah!"
As governor of Alaska, Palin has won praise for backing tough ethical standards for politicians. During the first legislative session after her election, her administration passed a state ethics law overhaul.
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said in nominating Palin that she had the leadership skills "born out of experience, hardship, disappointment and success."
"She's a hockey mom -- a hunter, a hard-hitting reformer -- and quite frankly, she's not afraid to raise a little hell amidst the Washington elite. Which is just what America needs!"
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty then took the stage and warmed up the crowd for the GOP presidential nominee. He said McCain "understands the concerns of everyday Americans like you and me."
"John McCain connects with Sam's Club voters. He gets it," Pawlenty said.
Overnight, crews transformed the stage at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, so delegates would surround McCain while he addressed the convention. The change was done to make the speech feel more like the town hall-style meetings the Republican presidential nominee is known for, aides said.
CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report.