McCain Chooses Alaska Governor Palin as His Running Mate, Adding Youth and Buzz

With strong social conservative credentials, Sarah Palin will be the first woman on a GOP ticket.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

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Ending the suspense with a surprise choice, Republican John McCain reached up into Alaska to choose a woman as his running mate: Sarah Palin, the 44-year-old governor.

She is destined for the history books as the first woman to grace a GOP presidential ticket.

The Associated Press confirmed the selection Friday morning about 75 minutes before the pair were to make their debut in Dayton, Ohio.

A mother of five, a Christian, a hunter, and a lifetime member of the NRA, Palin brings juice—and youth—to the Republican ticket. She's a former beauty queen, too.

The out-of-the-box selection clearly invites women in every state to turn out November 4 for the GOP. It came during an unprecedented political season that saw Democrat Hillary Clinton come close to winning that party's nomination but lose out to Barack Obama.

The selection is to be announced formally at noon on Friday—as McCain celebrates his 72nd birthday—at a joint rally in Dayton. It's a warm-up to the Republican National Convention that kicks off Monday in St. Paul, Minn.

Palin, who was sworn in at the end of 2006, is the first woman to serve as chief executive officer of the country's 49th state—and the youngest person to hold the office. In her run, she ousted an unpopular incumbent, Gov. Frank Murkowski, in a primary, and then bested the state's best-known Democrat, ex-Gov. Tony Knowles.

She campaigned on an ethics reform platform but more recently has come under fire in a scandal dubbed "Troopergate." It involves allegations that she may have pushed for the firing of her former brother-in-law, a state trooper. He went through a bitter divorce from Palin's sister. The governor is alleged by some to have axed the state's public safety commissioner for refusing to fire the trooper.

Palin was born in Sandpoint, Idaho, and raised in Alaska; she graduated from the University of Idaho in 1987. She is the former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, where during high school she was a point guard for its championship basketball team. "Everything I need to know, I learned on the basketball court," she once remarked.

Her aggressiveness on the court earned her a nickname, "Sarah Barracuda." Her husband, Todd, has a moniker, too—he's "First Dude" to his wife.

Palin recently gave birth to the couple's youngest child, after continuing the pregnancy even though she was told in advance that the infant would have Down syndrome. After giving birth, she dived right back into work.

Among her priorities is advocating for a long-sought 1,715-mile pipeline to deliver natural gas to markets in her state and the lower 48. Hence she brings energy know-how to the campaign at a time when voters cite energy issues and gas prices as a top concern.

Alaska trends Republican and dangles a paltry three electoral votes to presidential hopefuls, so her pick has nothing to do with geography and everything to do with ideology, biography, and buzz. Her pro-life stance is sure to win the hearts of social conservatives.

Only once in U.S. history has a woman been a major-party vice presidential nominee: In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro joined Walter Mondale on the Democratic ticket, but they fell short at the polls when Ronald Reagan won re-election.

A recent poll conducted for EMILY's List, a Democratic group that supports female, pro-choice candidates for office, found that Obama led women by a 51-to-39 percent margin, with Obama's narrowest lead among women who, like Palin, are part of the baby boom generation.