DAYTON - (AP) - Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin,a maverick conservative with less than two years in office, as hisvice presidential running mate Friday in a startling choice as theRepublican National Convention drew near. At a raucous rally in the swing state of Ohio, McCain introducedPalin as the political partner "who can best help me shake upWashington and make it start working again for the people who arecounting on us." "I am honored," she said moments later, the first Republicanwoman chosen for national office. Palin has built her political career in large measure by takingon fellow Republicans. In a fast-developing presidential campaign, McCain made hisselection six days after his Democratic rival, Barack Obama, namedSen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, as his running mate. The contrast between the two announcements was remarkable -Obama, 47, picked a 65-year-old running mate with long experiencein government and a man whom he said was qualified to be president. On his 72nd birthday, McCain chose a 44-year-old running matewho until recently was the mayor of small-town Wasilla, Alaska -and made no claim she was ready to sit in the Oval Office. It wasn't a point lost on Obama's campaign. "Today, John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from thepresidency," Adrianne Marsh, a spokeswoman for Obama, said in awritten statement. Unlike Biden, who attacked McCain sharply in his debut lastweek, Palin was indirect in her initial attempts to elevate McCainover Obama. "There is only one candidate who has truly fought for Americaand that man is John McCain," she said as the Arizona senatorbeamed. McCain was a prisoner of war for more than five years inVietnam. McCain trails Obama in the polls among women voters, and Palinmoved quickly to remedy that. She mentioned that she followed in the footsteps of GeraldineFerraro, who was the Democratic vice presidential running mate in1984, and referred favorably to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, whodrew 18 million votes in her unsuccessful run against Obama for theDemocratic nomination. "But it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet andwe can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all," she said. Republicans said that McCain hoped to blunt Obama's message ofpolitical change with his pick, and it appeared likely she couldremove all doubt about her home state in the fall campaign. Obama has targeted Alaska and its three electoral votes, one ofseveral he hoped to turn competitive in the fall despite its longtradition of voting Republican. Palin has a strong anti-abortion record, and her selection waspraised warmly by social conservatives whose support McCain needsto prevail in the campaign for the White House. "It's an absolutely brilliant choice," said Mathew Staver,dean of Liberty University School of Law. "This will absolutelyenergize McCain's campaign and energize conservatives," hepredicted. With his pick, McCain passed over more prominent contenders likeMinnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, as well as others such as formerPennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, whose support for abortion rightsmight have sparked unrest at the convention that opens Monday inSt. Paul, Minn. The timing of McCain's selection appeared designed to limit anypolitical gain Obama derives from his own convention, which endedThursday night with his nominating acceptance speech before anestimated 84,000 in Invesco Field in Colorado. Public opinion polls show a close race between Obama and McCain,and with scarcely two months remaining until the election, neithercontender can allow the other to jump out to a big post-conventionlead. At 44, she is younger than two of McCain's seven children. She is three years Obama's junior, as well - and McCain has mademuch in recent weeks of Obama's relative lack of experience inforeign policy and defense matters. In its formal announcement, the campaign pointed to her powersas head of the Alaska National Guard and the mother of a soldierherself as evidence that she "understands what it takes to leadour nation..." McCain has had months to consider his choice, and has made itclear to reporters that one of his overriding goals was to avoid asituation like 1988, when little known Sen. Dan Quayle was throwninto a national campaign with little preparation. A self-styled hockey mom and political reformer, Palin was mayorof Wasilla, Alaska, population 6,500, until she became governor. Palin flew overnight to an airport in Ohio near Dayton, and evenas she awaited her formal introduction, some aides said they hadbelieved she was at home in Alaska. She became governor of her state in December, 2006 after oustinga governor of her own party in a primary and then dispatching aformer governor in the general election. More recently, she has come under the scrutiny of aninvestigation by the Republican-controlled legislature into thepossibility that she ordered the dismissal of Alaska's publicsafety commissioner because he would not fire her formerbrother-in-law as a state trooper. Palin has a long history of run-ins with the Alaska GOPhierarchy, giving her genuine maverick status and reformercredentials that could complement McCain's image. Two years ago, she ousted the state's Republican incumbentgovernor, Frank Murkowski in the primary, despite having littlemoney and little establishment backing. She has also distanced herself from two senior Republicanoffice-holders, Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young. Both men areunder federal corruption investigations. She had earned stripes - and enmity - after Murkowski made herhead of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. From thatpost, she exposed ethical violations by the state GOP chairman,also a fellow commissioner. Her husband, Todd Palin, is part Yup'ik Eskimo, and is ablue-collar North Slope oil worker who competes in the Iron Dog, a1,900-mile snowmobile race. The couple lives in Wasilla. They havefive children, the youngest of whom was born in April with Downsyndrome.Click here to watch the entire rally