Sen. John McCain stunned the political world Friday by picking Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, making her the Republican Party's first female vice presidential candidate in history.
"She's not from these parts and she's not from Washington," McCain told a crowd of some 12,000 Republicans at a basketball arena in Dayton, extolling her work against corruption and special interests in Alaska. "But when you get to know her, you're going to be as impressed as I am."
McCain said, "she's got the grit, integrity, and good sense and fierce devotion to the common good that is exactly what we need in Washington today."
Palin, 44, said she is "honored to be the running mate."
"I know it will demand the best I have to give, and I promise nothing less," Palin said.
She later added that she and her husband Todd are celebrating their 20th anniversary. "I had promised Todd a little surprise for the anniversary present," she joked, "and hopefully he knows that I did deliver."
McCain's pick guarantees an historic election, one that will produce either the first African-American president or the first woman vice president.
Palin said she never planned to get involved in public affairs, describing herself as "your average hockey mom."
She was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. Palin said she ran for the Wasilla City Council and later the mayor's job in order to "cut wasteful spending and property taxes," a line that drew a roar from the crowd.
She spoke of "the achievements of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and of course ... Sen. Hillary Clinton, who showed such determination and grace in her presidential campaign. Hillary left 18 million cracks in the hardest glass ceiling in America. The women of America aren't finished yet and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all!"
Barack Obama's campaign spokesman Bill Burton countered that McCain "put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency." Burton said in a statement that "Gov. 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."
But McCain communications director Jill Hazelbaker pushed back on the qualifications argument, saying Obama "simply cannot match" Palin's record.
She said Palin has been "actually achieving results, whether it's taking on corruption, passing ethics reform or stopping wasteful spending and the 'bridge to nowhere.' Senator Obama has spent his time in office running for President."
The "bridge to nowhere" was a proposed $398 million bridge connecting the town of Ketchikan to its airport on a nearby island where about 50 people live. Alaska's most powerful members of Congress, Rep. Don Young and Sen. Ted Stevens, inserted funding for the project in a 2005 transportation bill.
Obama and running mate Joe Biden issued a joint statement Friday welcoming Palin to the race, calling it "yet another encouraging sign that old barriers are falling in our politics. While we obviously have differences over how best to lead this country forward Governor Palin is an admirable person and will add a compelling new voice to this campaign."
President Bush called McCain's choice "exciting" and said "Governor Palin is a proven reformer who is a wise steward of taxpayer dollars and champion for accountability in government."
There is at least one difference between McCain and Palin.
Palin supports oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic Natonal Wildlife Refuge. McCain opposes it, though he supports expanded drilling off American coasts.
Political groups moved quickly to define the new candidate.
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, cited Palin's opposition to abortion rights, and said McCain's selection "proves just how rigid and extreme his administration would be when it comes to a woman's right to choose."
Palin is a popular governor who ran for office on a platform of ethics reform, one of McCain's causes, and could help McCain appeal to women disillusioned with Clinton's loss in the Democratic primary.
Palin is the youngest governor in Alaska's history.
McCain's pick of Palin is "going to make the Republican convention interesting again," says political analyst Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank based in Washington. Hess, a former adviser to presidents Ford and Carter, says McCain is taking a chance.
"It shows perhaps that he's a bit of a gambler, that he was willing at this stage to roll the dice," Hess says. "It's a tremendous risk to take someone of this little experience."
Supporters said the selection shows McCain's ability to break with more traditional forces of the party to make an unconventional pick.
Republican strategist Kevin Madden, Romney's spokesman during the campaign, said the selection "shows that they're making a concerted effort to go after women voters who are upset that Barack Obama passed over Hillary Clinton."
Madden said Palin is "a quintessential John McCain pick. She's someone who's a reformer, someone who's been a maverick."
In an interview last month with CNBC, Palin was asked about the vice presidency.
"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?" she said. "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, especially for Alaskans and for the things that we're trying to accomplish up here for the rest of the U.S. before I can even start addressing that question."
Palin, who is three years younger than Obama, also calls herself a maverick. She earned the nickname "Sarah Barracuda" as a high school basketball player, and the moniker has stuck during her political career.
During her nearly two years in the governor's mansion, Palin has fought "pork barrel" spending. Before her election, as a member of the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Palin pressed an ethics case against a fellow commissioner, the chairman of Alaska's Republican Party.
Yet Palin also faces an ongoing investigation of accusations that she fired the state's public safety commissioner this year because he would not fire a state trooper who is her sister's ex-husband.
Earlier this month, Palin released recordings of a phone conversation between one of her aides and a state trooper lieutenant in which the aide said the governor was troubled that her ex-brother-in-law remained on the force.
Palin put the aide on administrative leave and said he was acting without her knowledge or authorization. She has said she fired Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan for several reasons, including that he was not doing enough to address alcohol abuse issues in Alaska and was not a "team player on budget issues."
Monegan has said he felt pressured by Palin's husband and her administration to fire her sister's ex-husband.
Palin is married to Todd Palin, a life-long Alaskan who works as production operator on an oil field in the North Slope, according to her biography at the National Governors Association's website.
Todd Palin has won the Iron Dog, the world's longest snowmobile race, four times.
Palin is a mother of five, including a baby with Down syndrome. Track, her oldest son, enlisted in the U.S. Army on Sept. 11, 2007 and is heading to Iraq next month.
•David Jackson reported from Dayton, Ohio; John Fritze reported from McLean, Va.