Arizona Senator John McCain is expected to outline his qualifications for leading the country as president, in his address to the Republican National convention on Thursday. During the past few days, speakers at the convention have harshly criticized McCain's Democratic rival, Illinois Senator Barack Obama. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from the convention site in St. Paul, Minnesota, that Obama shrugged off the criticism during a campaign stop Thursday.

John McCain, who unsuccessfully battled then-Texas governor George Bush for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, will finally claim his long-awaited prize as the party's nominee, facing Democrat Barack Obama in the November election.

McCain, whose campaign was almost broke and written off by many political pundits just weeks before the start of the primary season, is expected to sound conservative themes regarding the economy and national security. But he is also likely to attempt to recast the Republican Party's image to match his calls for reform and to reflect his reputation as a political maverick who is unafraid to challenge party orthodoxy on certain issues.

McCain speechwriter Mark Salter gave a preview of the address in a conference call.

"He is going to talk about where, how and why he wants to lead the country," said Mark Salter. "He will get into some policy matters and some issue differences between him and Senator Obama. He will talk about his preparedness to lead, his record of reform, his plans to change the status quo in Washington as president. He will make an appeal for bipartisanship and he will call on the entire political culture in Washington to start putting their country first instead of their own self interest."

The night's lineup of speakers includes Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, whom McCain is believed to have considered as a running mate, former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, and Cindy McCain, the Arizona senator's wife.

On Wednesday, McCain's vice presidential pick, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, electrified the convention hall with a speech that attacked Democrats and the news media.

Other speakers unleashed sharp verbal attacks on Democratic candidate Obama, his qualifications as a potential commander-in-chief and his policy recommendations for the nation.

Speaking with reporters in Pennsylvania, Obama said he was not surprised by the Republican remarks.

"This is what they do," said Senator Obama. "They do not have an agenda to run on. They have not offered a single concrete idea so far in two nights about how they would make the lives of middle class Americans better. They have spent the entire two nights attacking me. And, by the way, I have been called worse on the basketball court [than in Republican attacks]."

Hundreds of protesters have been arrested outside the Republican convention site since it opened Monday. Protesters gathered on Thursday for another anti-war rally on the closing day of the convention.