DAYTON, August 29 – Republican John McCain unveiled a major surprise in the White House race Friday with his pick of first woman governor of the oil-rich state of Alaska, Sarah Palin, as his running-mate.
"Governor Palin is a tough executive who has demonstrated during her time in office that she is ready to be president," the McCain campaign said in announcing the choice.
"She has brought Republicans and Democrats together within her administration and has a record of delivering on the change and reform that we need in Washington," it said in a communique.
McCain was due to present Palin formally as his running mate at a midday (1600 GMT) rally here.
The choice of Palin, a 44-year-old mother of five, marks a huge political risk by McCain, and a blatant bid to win over disgruntled supporters of failed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The timing of the announcement was clearly designed to overshadow the campaign of McCain’s Democratic rival, Barack Obama, the morning after he accepted his party’s presidential nomination in a nationally televised extravaganza in a Denver sports stadium.
Palin could appeal to the Republican’s grassroots conservative base, as she is strongly pro-life and backs the gun lobby.
She would balance out concerns over the age of McCain, who celebrated his 72nd birthday on Friday, and she could also be seen as a breath of fresh air, untainted by Washington politics.
But unlike Clinton — the former first lady who was defeated in the Democratic primary nominating race by Obama — Palin as a first-time governor elected in Alaska in 2006 has no national experience.
The McCain campaign moved immediately to counter this charge, noting that Palin, as governor of Alaska, has wide experience in energy issues, a key issue for an electorate hammered by high oil prices and other economic woes.
It said Palin had "challenged the influence of the big oil companies while fighting for the development of new energy resources".
"She leads a state that matters to every one of us — Alaska has significant energy resources and she has been a leader in the fight to make America energy independent," it said.
McCain also praised Palin as a crusader against corruption in her state, a tough fiscal conservative and an official who understands military matters.
"Her experience in shaking up the status quo is exactly what is needed in Washington today," it said.
"As the head of Alaska’s National Guard and as the mother of a soldier herself, Governor Palin understands what it takes to lead our nation and she understands the importance of supporting our troops," it said.
News that Palin was McCain’s surprise choice began to leak to the press in the early hours of Friday as the Republicans sought to minimize the "bump" in popularity that Obama was expected to gain after this week’s Democratic nominating convention.
Just hours before, Obama gave a highly praised acceptance speech to a jubiliant crowd of 84,000 fans crammed into a Denver stadium, urging voters to help "restore America’s promise."
Picking such a long-shot candidate could undermine McCain’s accusations against Obama that he lacks the experience to be the commander in chief of a country caught up in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And Palin could find it difficult to match up against experienced senator Joseph Biden, the Democrats’ vice presidential pick, who has spent his much of his 36-year career working on foreign policy.
Palin is the first woman to lead Alaska and is best known for aggressively pushing for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a key part of McCain’s energy policy.
Palin would also help McCain maintain his image as a maverick outsider: she gained popularity as a crusading rebel and whistle blower against corruption among fellow Alaskan Republicans.
After appearing with his running mate here, the Republican team was to head to two other battleground states — Pennsylvania and Missouri — ahead of the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, which kicks off on Monday.
In choosing Palin, McCain turned away more experienced politicians who had been considered the front-runners for the vice-presidency.
These included former Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, independent Senator Joe Lieberman — Democrat Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, and Governor Tim Pawlenty of the key election battleground state of Minnesota.