McCain Taps Alaska Governor Palin as Vice Presidential Running Mate

John McCain has made his vice presidential pick: the Republican contender will tap first-term Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.

The 44-year-old Palin brings working class roots and appeal to female voters, becoming only the second female vice presidential candidate on a major party ticket -- a first for the GOP.

She also brings a reputation as a reformer, beauty pageant good looks, a crack shot with a rifle and an eagerness for political combat that earned her the nickname of "Sarah Barracuda."

Being first is nothing to new to Palin (pronounced PALE-IN). She is the first female governor as well as the youngest governor ever of the Last Frontier, the 49th state to join the Union in 1959 and one of the country's least populous states.

Palin became governor just two years ago after defeating Republican incumbent Frank Murkowski in a GOP primary.

"Governor Palin is a tough executive who has demonstrated during her time in office that she is ready to be president," the McCain campaign asserted in a statement. "Governor Palin has the record of reform and bipartisanship that others can only speak of. Her experience in shaking up the status quo is exactly what is needed in Washington today."

McCain introduced Palin during a rally in Dayton, Ohio, that began with 15,000 supporters serenading him with "Happy Birthday." McCain, almost giddy with the enthusiastic reception, turned 72 today.

But he quickly segued into introducing the star of the day's rally as someone who "stands up for what's right and she doesn't let anyone tell her to sit down."

Praising her "grit and integrity," McCain said, "She's exactly who I need. She's exactly who this country this needs to help me fight the same old Wash politics of me first and country second."

Moments later Palin emerged with her trademark beehive hairdo followed by her husband, Todd, and four of their five children as the arena erupted in cheers.

When the roar subsided, Palin confided that it was her and Todd's 20th wedding anniversary. "I promised Todd a little surprise with the anniversary presents and hopefully he knows I did deliver," she said.

Palin also said that her oldest child, son Track, couldn't be there because he was in the Army and training for deployment to Iraq next month.

"Todd and I are so proud of him," she said.

In her debut on the party's ticket, Palin emphasized her blue collar roots, describing herself as an "just your average hockey mom in Alaska" and her husband as a member of a steelworkers union.

In a pitch to women, she cited the performance of Democrats Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, who ran as Walter Mondale's vice presidential candidate, and Sen. Hillary Clinton "who showed such determination and grace in her presidential campaign."

Using Clinton's reference about having created 18 million cracks in the political glass ceiling, Palin said, "The women of America aren't finished yet and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all."

Sen. Clinton, D-N.Y., in a written statement congratulated Palin on her achivement.

"We should all be proud of Governor Sarah Palin's historic nomination, and I congratulate her and Senator McCain. While their policies would take America in the wrong direction, Governor Palin will add an important new voice to the debate," said Clinton.

The Alaskan governor said her reason for being in politics and for accepting McCain's offer of being his running mate is to "challenge the status quo and to serve the common good." Following her maxim, she said, led her to stand up to the oil companies, lobbyists and "the good ol' boy network."

As an example of fighting the waste of taxpayers money, she brought up the controversy over the multi-million dollar "bridge to nowhere" that embarrassed the state when Alaska's Republican Sen. Ted Stevens inserted the windfall into a Senate bill.

"I told Congress thanks but no thanks on that bridge to nowhere," Palin told the rally. "If our state wanted a bridge, I said, we'd build it ourselves."

The Obama campaign immediately zeroed in on Palin's experience.

"John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency. Governor Palin shares John McCain's commitment to overturning Roe v. Wade, the agenda of Big Oil and continuing George Bush's failed economic policies -- that's not the change we need, it's just more of the same," Bill Burton, Obama campaign spokesman shot back.

Palin is the youngest governor in Alaska's short statehood history, taking office in 2006 amidst attempts by Democrats to turn the reliably Republican state to their column.

She is a staunch opponent of abortion rights, and a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. Her youngest child is a boy named Trig who was born in April and has Down Syndrome. The parents were aware of the diagnosis when Palin was four months pregnant, but they decided to have the child anyway.

Palin Bring Strong Conservative Credentials to McCain Ticket

McCain's Palin pick should please conservatives but she will be immediately challenged as an inexperienced candidate for a job that is a heartbeat away from the presidency.

McCain's senior adviser Mark Salter tried to dismiss such criticism citing her experience as the chief executive of her state, commander of Alaska's National Guard, and "an actual record of fighting corruption, business as usual and taking on big oil unlike the Democratic presidential nominee, who only pretends he has. I'd say that's more credentials than the top of the other ticket."

Rep. Jim Clyburn, the House Democratic Whip, told South Carolina ETV Radio that the pick was "risky" and would prove to be as embarrassing to McCain as Dan Quayle was to former President George H.W. Bush.

Tough Political Fighter in Alaska

Palin's reputation for being a tough political infighter has been earned largely by battling her own party rather than Democrats.

As mayor of the tiny city of Wasilla -- population a little more than 8,000 -- she was dubbed the "Barracuda," reviving the moniker she had earned on the Wasillia High School basketball team for her aggressive style of play. That team went on to win the state championship in 1982.

As mayor, she was just as fierce, firing department heads who disagreed with her or stood by her predecessor.

Palin continued a reputation for a hard nosed style as she moved up in Alaskan politics.

In 2003, she was appointed to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and within a year forced the resignation of a fellow commissioner on an ethics violation. That commissioner was also chairman of Alaska's Republican Party.

She later joined with a Democratic state representative to file an ethics complaint against the state attorney general Gregg Renkes, also a Republican who had close ties to Gov. Murkowski. The attorney general eventually resigned.

Palin herself has come under scrutiny recently.

An inquiry has begun into whether Palin fired the state's public safety director because he blocked Palin for dismissing a state trooper who was once married to Palin's sister.

The governor has denied that she tried to have the trooper dismissed, and said the pubic safety director was fired because he wasn't aggressive enough in fighting crime. She also dismissed suggestions that it should affect her chances to be McCain's running mate.

"It shouldn't disqualify me from anything," she told CNBC's "Kudlow and Co." last month.

Palin has accused the energy industry of corrupting Alaskan politics, but she has also fought to open up Alaska to additional drilling, a move that McCain has opposed.

Palin's blunt style was display in the "Kudlow and Co." interview as she voiced her support for McCain by saying, "I think we need McCain in the White House despite still the close-mindedness on ANWR. I think he's going to get there, though."

She also suggested that someone would have to convince her to take VP slot.

"As for that VP talk all the time, I'll tell ya, I still can't answer that question until somebody answers for me, what is it exactly that the VP does every day. I'm used to being very productive and working real hard and in administration. We want to make sure that that VP slot would be a fruitful type of position," she told the show.

Alaska's Female Governor Joins McCain as Vice Presidential Contender

Palin is the model of a self-sufficient Alaskan.

Besides being a two-term mayor of Wasilla, she was also crowned Miss Wasilla in 1984 and later competed to be Miss Alaska. After her son Trig was born in April, she skipped a maternity leave and went right back to work.

She eloped to marry Todd Palin, 42, so they wouldn't have the expense of a lavish wedding. As spouse to the governor, Todd Palin refers to himself as Alaska's "First Dude," but is better known as the winner of this year's Tesoro Iron Dog, billed as the longest, toughest snowmobile race in the world.

Todd Palin, who is part Yu'pik Eskimo, spent his career working in Alaska's oil fields and fisheries.

He's taken some college courses, but does not have a degree.

Since his wife has been governor, Mr. Palin has spent his time doing the cooking and chauffeuring their four older children which include a son, Track, 18, and three daughters, Bristol, 16, Willow, 12, and Piper, 6.

Surprise Vice Presidential Pick from McCain

Despite her strong conservative credentials, Palin is certainly a surprise pick.

Not well known outside of Alaska, McCain picked Palin above several more prominent choices including former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and former Gov. Tom Ridge, R-Pa.

Also lesser known but considered a strong contender on McCain's shortlist, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who like Palin, would have appealed to working class voters but would have brought little in the way of national name recognition.

Lieberman and Ridge were considered strong possibilities as well but may have fell out of favor due to their support for abortion rights.

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found if John McCain were to pick a running mate who favors legal abortion, it could cost him votes, particularly in some core Republican groups.

Among current McCain supporters, 20 percent said they'd be less likely to vote for McCain if he picked a candidate for vice president who favors abortion rights.

A Lieberman pick may have also had implications at the Republican National Convention next week. Party rules make it difficult, if not impossible, for a member of another party to be nominated on their national ticket.

Romney's stock in the veepstakes rose and fell several times in the months since he abandoned his own presidential bid. McCain and Romney sparred frequently and often personally on the campaign trail but seemed to make peace over the past few months with Romney becoming one of McCain's strongest advocates.

Nonetheless, it is Palin, a former two term mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and two term member of the city council who joined McCain on the Republican ticket.

Sen. McCain turned 72 on Friday. The only gift he may be looking for from his new vice president? Conservative votes, independent appeal, and reach out to women who may be intrigued by the historic nature of her pick.

ABC News' Ron Claiborne, Bret Hovel, and Jake Tapper contributed to this report.