ST. PAUL, Minnesota -- Republicans formally declared John McCain their presidential candidate, but his nomination was overshadowed by a fiery speech from his running mate, Sarah Palin, who launched a slashing counterattack on her critics and blasted Democratic candidate Barack Obama.
McCain locked up the nomination with a roll call vote late Wednesday at the Republican National Convention. Republicans hope the veteran senator with a reputation as a maverick can overcome the legacy of George W. Bush and give their party four more years in the White House.
The state-by-state vote was anticlimactic in the aftermath of the speech by Palin, the conservative Alaska governor who in one week has gone from virtual unknown to the most controversial figure in American politics.
Her address was the most closely watched event of the four-day convention. Palin, 44, has less than two years of experience as a governor and no experience outside the state. Republicans have had to fight off criticism that she is a lightweight unfit to assume the presidency if McCain wins the Nov. 4 election and then becomes incapacitated.
It is not clear how her speech will affect the overall race, but judging by the thunderous applause in the convention center, party loyalists were reassured. With her youthful experience as a sportscaster and time spent in the governor's office, Palin's timing was flawless, her appeal to the crowd obvious.
Palin took special care in introducing her husband and five children, including a son who is a soldier heading to Iraq, a 17-year-old unwed pregnant daughter and a son born in April with Down syndrome.
"Our family has the same ups and downs as any other, the same challenges and the same joys," she said as the audience signaled its understanding.
She mixed together praise for McCain, quips about small-town life, criticism of Washington insiders and a smiling, sarcastic attack on Obama.
"Victory in Iraq is finally in sight; he wants to forfeit," she said of Obama. "Al-Qaida terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America; he's worried that someone won't read them their rights."
After the speech, Palin and her family were embraced on stage by McCain, his first appearance at the convention.
"Don't you think we made the right choice for the next vice president of the United States," McCain asked through the deafening noise that washed through the hall after Palin's polished first appearance before a national television audience.
McCain, is scheduled to accept the nomination in a speech Thursday night.
Palin has been the subject of intense scrutiny since McCain tapped her as his vice presidential running mate Friday. Disclosures have included her unwed daughter's pregnancy and details of an ethics probe, the United States' northernmost state. Virtually nothing is known about her grasp of foreign policy or security issues.
McCain's campaign has accused the media of creating scandals to destroy the first female Republican candidate for vice president. Palin grabbed that theme and raised the stakes.
"I'm not a member of the permanent political establishment," 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 great country."
Sliding deftly into the Republican convention theme of "Country First," Palin lambasted Obama as a candidate out for himself.
"Here's how I look at the choice Americans face in this election. In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers," she said in a dig to Obama's casting himself as the candidate for change. "And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change."
The vast contrasts in the Republican and Democratic tickets, compounded by Palin's choice as McCain's running mate, have produced one of the most captivating U.S. presidential campaigns in recent memory.
Obama, a 47-year-old first-term senator from Illinois, would, if victorious, become America's first black president.
McCain, a 72-year-old cancer survivor and former Vietnam prisoner of war, would be the oldest first-term U.S. president. Palin would be the first female vice president of the United States.
McCain was the early front-runner for the nomination, but his candidacy collapsed as his stances on immigration and campaign financing angered the party's conservative base, and his call for more U.S. troops in Iraq was rejected by most Americans.
But his campaign was revived as Bush agreed to a troop buildup in Iraq and violence there soon diminished. McCain's positions on key issues, including immigration, moved closer to the Republican mainstream. And the campaigns of top rivals, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, collapsed.
It was McCain's second run for the nomination. He lost to Bush in a bitter campaign in 2000.
The nomination of Palin, a strong opponent of abortion, has helped McCain with the party's Christian base, which has long been wary of him. Her credentials as a reformer in Alaska fit neatly with McCain's political philosophy. That she is a woman has given him hope of winning over some women disgruntled by Hillary Rodham Clinton's defeat in the Democratic primary campaign.
But the series of revelations about Palin also have raised criticism that McCain's campaign had not fully explored her background, before offering Palin the vice presidential slot.
Beyond the ethics investigation and news of her unmarried daughter's pregnancy, questions have arisen about Palin's efforts as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, to gain millions of dollars in federal money. Such actions would be at odds with McCain's message of fiscal reform.
Convention speakers, though, showered Palin with praise, including three former rivals who spoke Wednesday: Giuliani, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney.