Republican presumptive presidential nominee John McCain on Tuesday slammed rival Democrat Barack Obama, casting the younger senator as a candidate who represents the "wrong change."
McCain also distanced himself from President George W. Bush on the Iraq war, spending and treatment of detainees, as he squared off against Obama, who clinched the delegates needed to become the likely Democratic nominee after a 17-month contest against Hillary Clinton.
"No matter who wins this election, the direction of this country is going to change dramatically. But, the choice is between the right change and the wrong change; between going forward and going backward," McCain said in a speech in Louisiana.
"The wrong change looks not to the future but to the past for solutions that have failed us before and will surely fail us again," McCain said.
"I have a few years on my opponent, so I am surprised that a young man has bought in to so many failed ideas."
He pointed to Obama as having "the attitude of politicians who are sure of themselves but have little faith in the wisdom, decency and common sense of free people. That attitude created the unresponsive bureaucracies of big government in the first place.
"And that's not change we can believe in," McCain said in a refrain he repeated throughout the speech, playing on Obama's campaign slogan: "Change We Can Believe In."
"You will hear from my opponent's campaign in every speech, every interview, every press release that I'm running for President Bush's third term. You will hear every policy of the president described as the Bush-McCain policy," he said.
"I have worked with the president to keep our nation safe. But he and I have not seen eye to eye on many issues," said McCain, 71, casting himself as an experienced bipartisan in contrast to younger and more liberal Obama, 46.
"I disagreed strongly with the Bush administration's mismanagement of the war in Iraq," said the Arizona senator.
"I called for the change in strategy that is now, at last, succeeding where the previous strategy had failed miserably," he said, referring to the US troop "surge" in Iraq.
"Senator Obama opposed the new strategy, and, after promising not to, voted to deny funds to the soldiers who have done a brilliant and brave job of carrying it out," McCain said.
In an apparent response to critics who accuse McCain of advocating an "endless war," the Vietnam veteran pointed to his own experience as a prisoner of war and said Obama's policies would draw the United States deeper into conflict.
"I hate war. And I know very personally how terrible its costs are. But I know, too, that the course Senator Obama advocates could draw us into a wider war with even greater sacrifices; put peace further out of reach, and Americans back in harm's way," he said.
McCain acknowledged that Obama would make a "formidable" opponent and applauded Clinton for her efforts.
"Senator Clinton has earned great respect for her tenacity and courage," he said.
"As the father of three daughters, I owe her a debt for inspiring millions of women to believe there is no opportunity in this great country beyond their reach. I am proud to call her my friend."