ST. PAUL -- President Bush proclaimed Senator John McCain "ready to lead this nation" in a farewell speech to the Republican convention here on Tuesday night. But far from being the kind of unifying send-off and baton pass engineered for Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, the evening only highlighted Mr. McCain's eagerness to get the president off the stage.
"John is an independent man who thinks for himself," Mr. Bush said via satellite from the White House, in an eight-minute speech intended to reinforce the McCain campaign's theme that the senator is no clone of the president. "He's not afraid to tell you when he disagrees. Believe me, I know."
The brief talk, one day after Hurricane Gustav forced him to jettison his planned appearance here, made Mr. Bush the first sitting president not to attend his own party's political convention since Lyndon B. Johnson skipped the Democratic convention in 1968. With most of the delegates here devoted to the president to the end, it offered Mr. Bush, the most unpopular president in recent history, a chance to revel, though remotely, in the kind of affection he rarely gets these days.