Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. (Photo: Charles Dharapak / AP)
Dayton, Ohio - In a surprise move, Senator John McCain announced here Friday that he had chosen Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate, shaking up the political world at a time when his campaign has been trying to attract women, especially disaffected supporters of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"I'm very happy today to spend my birthday with you, and to make a historic announcement in Dayton," said Mr. McCain, who turned 72 on Friday, explaining that he had been looking for the running mate who can "best help me shake up Washington."
In choosing Ms. Palin - a 44-year-old social conservative and mother of five who has been governor for less than two years - the McCain campaign reached far outside the Washington Beltway in an election in which the Democratic presidential nominee, Senator Barack Obama, is running on a platform of change.
"She's not from these parts, and she's not from Washington, but when you get to know her, you're going to be as impressed as I am," Mr. McCain said as he introduced Ms. Palin to a crowd estimated by his campaign to be 15,000 at the Ervin J. Nutter Center here.
Ms. Palin then took the stage with her husband, Todd, who owns a commercial fishing business, and four of their five children. She said her eldest child, a son, is in the Army, and he is heading to Iraq on Sept. 11.
She described herself as "just your average hockey mom," who joined the P.T.A., was elected to the City Council, then served as mayor and as governor, adding that she did not get into government to take the safe course.
"A ship in harbor is safe, but that's not why the ship is built," Ms. Palin said, adding that she would "challenge the status quo to serve the common good."
Ms. Palin praised the achievement of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who lost a long and bitter primary race against Senator Obama, saying that she had left "18 million cracks" in the highest glass ceiling in the land.
Then, making an explicit appeal to Ms. Clinton's disappointed supporters, she said, "It turns out that the women in America aren't finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling."
Ms. Palin, a former mayor of the small town of Wasilla, an Anchorage suburb, and one-time beauty pageant queen, first rose to prominence as a whistle-blower uncovering ethical misconduct in state government.
The selection amounted to a gamble that an infusion of new leadership - and the novelty of the Republican Party's first female candidate for vice president - would more than compensate for the risk that Ms. Palin could undercut one of the McCain campaign's central arguments, its claim that Mr. Obama is too inexperienced to be president.
The choice of Ms. Palin stands in sharp contrast to the selection of the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, a veteran lawmaker and chairman of Foreign Relations Committee.
But Ms. Palin ran as a change agent when she was elected as governor of Alaska in 2006, and in a move that might have appealed to Mr. McCain, she took intense criticism from members of her own party for turning the spotlight on the failures of Alaska Republicans, some of whom had been beset by corruption scandals.
She was elected Alaska's chief executive after fighting off a comeback bid by a former Democratic governor. Her victory came after she had helped uncover misconduct in the administration of Gov. Frank Murkowski, whom she later trounced in a Republican primary.
Ms. Palin opposes abortion rights, which could help pacify social conservatives in a party whose members were wary as rumors swirled that Mr. McCain might pick a running mate who did not.
But she differs with Mr. McCain on a controversial environmental issue that centers on her home state: she has been pushing for a new pipeline that would pump trillions of cubic feet of natural gas from the North Slope to the lower 48 states in the hope of delivering Alaska another economic boom. Mr. McCain's opposition to drilling - even after he changed positions and began advocating for off-shore oil drilling - has upset many Republicans.
For its part, the Obama campaign was dismissive of the selection.
"Today, John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency," Bill Burton, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, said in a statement. "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."
The choice of Ms. Palin was a closely guarded secret, and she flew under the political radar for months as Mr. McCain searched for a running mate. Much of the public discussion in recent days had focused on Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and Mr. McCain's one-time rival for the Republican nomination; Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota; Tom Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania and Homeland Security secretary, and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, the Democrat-turned-independent who was former Vice President Al Gore's running mate in 2000. Social conservatives were relieved and highly pleased.
"They're beyond ecstatic," said Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition. "This is a home run. She is a reformer governor who is solidly pro-life and a person of deep Christian faith. And she is really one of the bright shining new stars in the Republican firmament."
Ms. Palin is known to conservatives for choosing not to have an abortion after learning that she was carrying a child with Down syndrome. "It is almost impossible to exaggerate how important that is to the conservative faith community," Mr. Reed said.
Whether her selection will improve Mr. McCain's appeal to women who had supported Mrs. Clinton is unclear. Both Mr. McCain and Ms. Palin oppose abortion rights, an important issue for some women. And a major theme of the Democratic convention that just concluded in Denver was both Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President Bill Clinton urging supporters to unite behind Mr. Obama.
The choice of Ms. Palin was reminiscent of George H. W. Bush's selection of Dan Quayle, a young United States senator, as his running mate in 1988. The media and most in the Republican Party were caught unaware by the announcement of a figure relatively unknown outside Indiana.
Similarly, several of Mr. McCain's outside advisers reacted with bewilderment that Ms. Palin was the choice, and one said that it would undercut one of Mr. McCain's central criticisms of Senator Obama - that he is too inexperienced to be commander in chief.
"While it's a dramatic and interesting choice, it would make the argument he's making difficult to make," said the adviser, who is close to the campaign.
The confirmation of Mr. McCain's selection of Ms. Palin came barely an hour before he was to introduce her to the nation here and at the end of a chaotic and at times comic morning of media reports that veered from possibility to possibility. The two men who been widely reported as recently as Thursday evening to be on Mr. McCain's short list - Mr. Romney and Governor Pawlenty - were eliminated by mid-morning Friday.
Attention then turned to reports that a chartered Gulfstream jet had arrived near Dayton from Anchorage late Thursday, suggesting that Ms. Palin was on it.
In Alaska, Carrie Hollier, a 27-year-old resident and supporter of Mr. Obama, said she would feel some wistfulness about not voting for the governor she admires.
"It definitely makes it difficult, because you can't help but love Sarah Palin," she said.
In November, Ms. Palin spoke at a redeployment ceremony for the company of her husband, Daniel Norman, an Army sniper who was awarded a Purple Heart for shrapnel he took from a roadside bomb in Iraq. The governor spoke so warmly to the assembled families, said Ms. Hollier, "there wasn't one person who wasn't crying."
Under other circumstances, Ms. Hollier might consider voting for Ms. Palin. "She never comes across as full on Republican," she said. "But Obama is the one who is going to bring everyone home."
Elisabeth Bumiller contributed reporting from Washington. D.C., Michael
Grynbaum contributed reporting from New York and Jodi Kantor contributed reporting