DAYTON, Ohio — Jennifer Horvath reacted with joy and curiosity Friday when presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain tapped first-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate.
"I think it's a good choice. It's unexpected," said Horvath, a 50-year-old Dayton resident who was one of 15,000 people who were at a basketball arena here to cheer McCain and his selection. "I'm going to Google her to find out more. It will draw some Hillary voters who are on the fence."
Praise and head-scratching abounded at Wright State University's Nutter Center as McCain ended weeks of speculation and cat-and-mouse intrigue by introducing the little-known Alaska governor as the second female vice-presidential candidate from a major party in the nation's history. Democrat Geraldine Ferraro was the first, in 1984.
"I don't know anything about her personally, but having a woman on the ticket will help offset the mistake Obama made in choosing Biden instead of Hillary," said Carlos Todd, former chairman of Ohio's Butler County Republican Party.
McCain told the crowd that Palin was "exactly who I need" and "exactly who this country needs to help us fight the same old Washington politics of me first and country second.
"For the last few months I've been looking for a running mate who can best help me shake up Washington and make it start working again. It is with great pride that I tell you that I have found the right partner to help me stand up to those who value their privilege over their responsibility or power over principle, who put their interests over your needs."
Palin said she was honored to be nominated and that her mission was clear.
"For the next 67 days I'm going to take our campaign to every part of our country and our message of reform to every voter of every background, in every political party or no party at all," she said. "If you want change in Washington, if you hope for a better America, then we're asking for your vote on the 4th of November."
Palin paid homage to Ferraro and praised Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., for running a spirited race against Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and putting "18 million cracks" in the glass ceiling that blocks women from higher office.
"But it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all," she told the crowd.
As McCain presented Palin as the right woman for the job, Obama's campaign blasted the Arizona senator's choice by using an argument that Republicans hurl at Obama: too little experience.
"Today, John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign-policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency," Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said in a written 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."
Obama campaign officials later offered a softer assessment. Linda Douglass, a campaign spokeswoman, offered congratulations on behalf of Obama and Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden.
"Her selection is yet another encouraging sign that old barriers are falling in our politics," Douglass said aboard Obama's campaign plane. "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."
Obama also called Palin late Friday afternoon from his campaign bus, his campaign spokesman Robert Gibbs said. They talked several minutes. Obama told Palin she'd be a terrific candidate and that he looked forward to seeing her on the campaign trail. He also wished her good luck, but not too much luck.
Clinton issued a statement as well: "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."
President Bush issued a statement commending McCain's "exciting decision" and hailing Palin as "a proven reformer. . . . By selecting a working mother with a track record of getting things done, Senator McCain has once again demonstrated his commitment to reforming Washington."
Palin, 44, is a first-term governor and a married mother of five. She's known as a maverick who's willing to challenge her own party, a trait that McCain hopes will help him attract independent voters. Earlier this month she sued Bush's Interior Department in an attempt to reverse its decision to place polar bears on the endangered species list.
She's perceived as an ethics crusader and reformer within a state Republican Party that's been rocked by scandal, credentials that enhance McCain's similar image. However, she's come under scrutiny in a probe by Alaska's legislature into the possibility that she ordered the dismissal of the state's public safety commissioner because he wouldn't fire her former brother-in-law, a state trooper.
She's against legalized abortion. She's married to a card-carrying union member, which could appeal to independents and Democrats.
Palin was considered a very long shot for the vice-presidential slot. And she didn't sound as if she was champing at the bit for the job before it was offered.
"(A)s for that VP talk all the time, I'll tell you, I still can't answer that question until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the VP does every day," she told CNBC's Lawrence Kudlow recently. "I'm used to being very productive and working real hard in an administration. We want to make sure that that VP slot would be a fruitful type of position, especially for Alaskans and for things that we're trying to accomplish up here and for the rest of the U.S., before I can even start addressing that question."
McCain's vice-presidential short list had read like a Republican "Who's Who" and included former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat-turned-independent-Democrat, was also under consideration, though many conservatives blasted the idea.
Evidence pointed to Palin after reports that a private jet from Alaska had arrived in Dayton late Thursday night or early Friday morning. One by one, potential vice-presidential candidates began informing the news media and others that they weren't the one. It was midmorning Friday before McCain's selection of Palin was confirmed, however, proving that his campaign, like Obama's last week, was adept at avoiding a leak of information that the media were hunting avidly.
(Thomma reported from Denver. Margaret Talev, traveling with the Obama campaign, contributed to this article.)
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