[BLOG: Tom Abrahams has the latest from St. Paul]
By the end of the night, conventioneers were chanting her name, a long way from just a few days ago when she was introduced as McCain's running mate and the general reaction was, "Who?"
McCain who officially became his party's presidential nominee tonight, made a surprise appearance at the Excel Center for Palin's speech, similar to the one Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama made last week when his ticket mate Joe Biden delivered his acceptance speech.
However the spotlight rested on Palin, the once little-known 44-year-old first woman and youngest governor of Alaska.
Palin has galvanized the Republican Party with her conservative philosophies and captured intense media attention when she released a stunning statement saying her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant and intends to keep the baby and marry the young father.
Watch the ABC News live special with Charlie Gibson, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos from the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis/St.Paul at 9pm on ABC13.
In her primetime national political debut, Palin touted her small-town Alaska roots and took the fight directly to Obama.
"I accept the call to help our nominee for president to serve and defend America," Palin said. "I accept the challenge of a tough fight in this election against confident opponents at a crucial hour for our country. And I accept the privilege of serving with a man who has come through much harder missions and met far graver challenges and knows how tough fights are won -- the next president of the United States, John S. McCain."
Delivering her biography, Palin said, "I had the privilege of living most of my life in a small town."
Calling herself "an average hockey mom," Palin joked, "You know what they say the difference is between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick!"
"I signed up for the PTA because I wanted to make my kids' public education better. When I ran for city council, I didn't need focus groups and voter profiles because I knew those voters and knew their families, too," she said.
Highlighting her 19-year-old son Track's upcoming deployment to Iraq, Palin said McCain is "a man who wore the uniform of this country for 22 years, and refused to break faith with those troops in Iraq who have now brought victory within sight.
"And as the mother of one of those troops, that is exactly the kind of man I want as commander in chief. I'm just one of many moms who'll say an extra prayer each night for our sons and daughters going into harm's way," she said.
Taking a direct shot at Obama's background as a Chicago community organizer, Palin said, "Before I became governor of the great state of Alaska, I was mayor of my hometown. And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves. I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities," she said to wild applause.
"I might add that in small towns, we don't quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren't listening," Palin said, roasting Obama. "We tend to prefer candidates who don't talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco.
"As for my running mate, you can be certain that wherever he goes, and whoever is listening, John McCain is the same man. I'm not a member of the permanent political establishment," Palin said.
Slamming the news media, Palin said, "And I've learned quickly, these past few days, that if you're not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone. But here's a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion. I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this country."
Taking on Obama's mantra of "change," Palin said, "In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers. And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change."
Touting her fiscal record as governor of Alaska, Palin told the story of how when she took office, she put the governor's jet up for sale on eBay.
"I took on the old politics as usual in Juneau when I stood up to the special interests, the lobbyists, big oil companies, and the good-ol' boys network," she said.
"I got rid of a few things in the governor's office that I didn't believe our citizens should have to pay for. That luxury jet was over the top. I put it on eBay. I also drive myself to work. And I thought we could muddle through without the governor's personal chef," she said to cheers and applause from the Republican delegates.
Palin also brought attention to her baby son Trig, who has Down syndrome.
"Our family has the same ups and downs as any other ... children with special needs inspire a special love. To the families of special-needs children all across this country, I have a message: For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters," she said.
Listening to her speech, sitting side by side inside a VIP box were Cindy McCain, Palin's husband Todd, and her five children including daughter Bristol, and Palin's future son-in-law 18-year-old Levi Johnston.
Joining Palin and her family on stage after her speech, McCain said to the crowd, "Don't you think we made the right choice for vice president of the United States?"
Again, the crowd responded with wild applause.
Oklahoma delegate Don Burdick was ecstatic after Palin's speech.
"I don't think anyone can deny that we saw a genuine person, she was great," Burdick told ABC News' Ron Claiborne.
VP Pick Palin Steps on National Stage
For her first step into the kleig lights, Palin made an early morning trip to the Xcel Center in St. Paul Wednesday, standing at the podium, appearing to try to get a feel for the size of the arena.
The crowd of Republicans in the convention hall was the largest audience the small state governor had ever addressed. An estimated 20 million watched from home on television and the Internet.
Palin's speech came amid a flurry of reports that she was once a member of the Alaska Independence Party, never had a passport or traveled overseas until last year, that her husband was arrested 22 years ago on a drunken driving charge, and that she pushed for $27 million of federal earmarks into a bill for the tiny town of Wasilla while she was its mayor.
She is also the center of a legislative ethics investigation in Alaska into whether she abused her power in dismissing the state's public safety commissioner over a family dispute with a former brother-in-law, an Alaska state trooper who allegedly was abusive toward Palin's family members.
Determined to show pride in their vice presidential nominee, Michigan delegates inside the convention hall Wednesday night wore white and red hockey jerseys in honor of "hockey mom Sarah," one Michigan delegate told ABC News.
A group of female Colorado delegates pinned signs to themselves that read: "We love Sarah."
Other homemade signs throughout the arena read, "Palin Power" and "GI John / Superwoman" and "The Maverick" and "McCain Rules" and "We Love Cindy" and "Drill Now."
Determined to take control of their message Wednesday, the Republican program unveiled a roster of GOP speakers focusing on the economy, foreign policy and energy dependence on foreign countries.
Sending the crowd into wild applause, GOPAC chairman Michael Steele, a Republican Party fundraiser, touted aggressive oil exploration in the United States.
"So, do you want to put your country first?" he asked. "Then let's reduce our dependency on foreign sources of oil and promote oil and gas production at home.
"In other words, drill baby drill! And drill now!" Steele said.
After that the crowd frequently errupted into chants of "Drill baby drill!"
McCain's rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, also spoke, drawing a sharp contrast in their speeches between McCain and the Democratic ticket.
McCain Backers Romney, Giuliani Fire Up GOP Convention
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who dropped out of the Republican race early and quickly endorsed McCain after a disappointing finish in the Florida primary, reminded Americans of the dangers the country faces.
Giuliani focused on his friend McCain's experience on national security and foreign affairs, contrasting it with Obama's experience and judgment. "No one can look at John McCain and say that he is not ready to be commander in chief," Giuliani said.
Obama, the former mayor said, has "never run a city, never run a state, never run a business. He's never had to lead people in crisis. This is not a personal attack ... it's a statement of fact. Barack Obama has never led anything. Nothing. Nada."
Giuliani charged the Democratic Party with being "in a state of denial about the threat that faces us now and in the future," compared to McCain who will "keep us on offense against terrorism at home and abroad.
"To those Americans who still feel torn in this election, I'd like to suggest one way to think about the choice you have to make in 2008: You're hiring someone to do a job -- an important job that involves the safety and security of your family," Giuliani said.
"Gov. Palin represents a new generation," he said. "She's already one of the most successful governors in America -- and the most popular. And she already has more executive experience than the entire Democratic ticket. She's led a city and a state. She's reduced taxes and government spending. And she's actually done something about moving America toward energy independence -- taking on the oil companies while encouraging more energy exploration here at home. Taxpayers have an advocate in Sarah Palin. She even sold the former governor's private plane on eBay."
Romney, thought to be angling for a future presidential run, also gave a full-throated endorsement of his former primary rival.
"We need change all right -- change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington. We have a prescription for every American who wants change in Washington -- throw out the big-government liberals and elect John McCain," Romney said, as the crowd cheered "USA! USA!"
"At [a faith-based forum at] Saddleback [Church], after Barack Obama dodged and ducked every direct question, John McCain hit the nail on the head: Radical Islam is evil, and he will defeat it. Republicans prefer straight talk to politically correct talk," Romney said.
Taking a veiled jab at Michelle Obama for suggesting on the campaign trail in February that she was "proud" of the country for the first time in her life after her husband won the Iowa caucuses, Romney said, "Just like you, there has never been a day when I was not proud to be an American."
Huckabee, a former Baptist minister who thanks to widespread support from Christian evangelicals was the last of McCain's most credible rivals to drop out of the race, reminded the crowd he wanted to be at the top of the GOP ticket.
"As much as I appreciate the opportunity to speak tonight, I really was originally hoping for the slot on Thursday called the acceptance speech," Huckabee said. "But I am delighted to speak on behalf of my second choice for the Republican nomination for president, John McCain -- a man with the character and stubborn kind of integrity that I want in a president."
Slamming the media's coverage of the election, Huckabee argued the press has united the conservative moment -- saying that coverage is "tackier than a costume change at a Madonna concert."
Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, who introduced Palin, nodded to the potential vice president's family drama.
"After 20 years of marriage, Sarah and Todd have five beautiful children and a grandchild on the way," Lingle said, to applause from the crowd.
After Palin's speech, there was a roll call vote that culminated in McCain becoming the Republican nominee.
Expectations ran high for Palin's speech.
Early on, McCain said he expected his vice presidential pick to hit it out of the park.
"Americans are going to be very, very, very pleased. This is a very dynamic person," McCain told ABC's Charlie Gibson Wednesday on World News. "I mean, this person is going to come to Washington and, I'm telling you, to the 'old boy' network: They better look out, because change is coming."
Republicans argued there was a huge opportunity, because of the tremendous interest in Palin's speech, to restart the general election campaign.
"She's sort of new and exciting, she's opened up the playing field on hockey moms in America, she's re-energized the base and galvanized the Republican convention," said long-time Republican lawyer Ben Ginsberg as he walked through the convention hall.
"When was the last time you saw this much interest in a vice presidential acceptance speech?" he asked. "We're thrilled."
McCain Camp Sees Sexism in Palin Coverage
Amid a swirl of media reports about Palin's family and background, McCain's campaign Wednesday angrily called for an end to questions about it's "vetting" of Palin's background.
"The salacious nature in which these outlets have been trying to throw dirt at our candidate is inappropriate," McCain campaign manager Rick Davis told reporters on a conference call Wednesday.
In an interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer for "Good Morning America," Cindy McCain said she "absolutely" believes sexism is behind the critical coverage of her husband's vice presidential pick.
Cindy McCain blasted the overall coverage of Palin as sexist -- and specifically an Us Weekly cover headlined "Babies, Lies and Scandal."
"I think it's insulting," McCain told Sawyer. "I think it's outlandish. And for whatever reason, the media has decided to treat her differently, because, I believe, because she's a woman."
The potential first lady added that she approved of the selection of Palin as her husband's running mate, saying, "It's wonderful" that Palin's 17-year-old daughter is pregnant, claiming the campaign "knew about it."
"This is family -- and families have issues," McCain said. "And what a joy. They're going to have a new grandbaby -- I mean, a new life. It's wonderful."
Senior campaign adviser Steve Schmidt released a statement calling questions a "faux media scandal designed to destroy the first female Republican nominee" for vice president, lashing out at "the old boys' network" that, he said, runs media organizations.
Longtime conservatives said the controversy has highlighted her opposition to abortion rights and energized the GOP base.
Republicans Charge Sexism in Palin Backlash
"People are seeing through her who we really are," former House majority leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, told ABC News.com in an interview at the Republican convention.
"She is a women who lives out her principles," DeLay said. "Frankly, watching the decisions she's having to make with her family over the last few months and the contrast between her and Obama and Biden is absolutely amazing."
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert said of Palin's speech tonight: "I'm looking for her to be her. I want the American people to see a real conservative principled leader."
Hastert argued the Democrats are "deathly afraid" of Palin.
"I think they're deathly afraid of Sarah Palin because of who she is, who she represents -- the American family," Hastert said. "They would like to lay out that we're a bunch of white men running this party, and all of a sudden there is a woman who is successful who is becoming the number two person in the party, and I think they're threatened."
Hours before Palin was scheduled to deliver her speech at the convention, the McCain campaign released a television ad entitled "Alaska Maverick" painting her as someone who has taken on special interests in Alaska and brought reform and change in her two years as governor.
"While Barack Obama talks about change, Gov. Sarah Palin has actually done it," the ad claims.
Any doubts about McCain's choice of Palin as a vice presidential nominee were briefly layed to rest Wednesday night after she delivered a forceful speech.
"She proved she's really the right choice," Oklahoma delegate Don Burdick said. "Humor and intelligence ... this woman is the right pick."
ABC News' Rick Klein, Lindsey Ellerson, Tahman Bradley, Karen Travers and Michael S. James contributed to this report.
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