It's not Mitt.

Romney is not presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain's pick for vice president — it's Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Palin, who has ties to Idaho, is the first woman governor of Alaska, and at 44, also the youngest to lead that state.

"I will be honored to serve next to the next president of the United States," Palin said during a raucous rally Friday in the swing state of Ohio.

McCain said he made his pick after looking for a political partner "who can best help me shake up Washington and make it start working again for the people who are counting on us."

McCain said that Palin was "exactly who I need. She's exactly who this country needs to help us fight the same old Washington politics of me first and country second."

"There is only one candidate who has truly fought for America and that man is John McCain," she said as McCain beamed. The Arizona senator was a prisoner of war for more than five years in Vietnam.

Palin made an immediate play for support from Democratic women, mentioning that she followed in the footsteps of Geraldine Ferraro, who was the Democratic vice presidential running mate in 1984. She also referred favorably to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who drew 18 million votes in her unsuccessful run against Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination.

McCain made his selection six days after Obama named Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware as his running mate.

The contrast between the two announcements was striking — Obama picked an older running mate, and a man whom he said at the outset was qualified to be president.

McCain chose Palin, a generation younger than he is, and a governor less than two years, and made no such claim about her readiness to sit in the Oval Office.

McCain's choice is sure to disappoint the many Utahns who have long supported Romney, the former leader of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and a member of the LDS Church.

Romney said in a statement that "Palin's story is one that all Americans will find inspiring. She's a Washington outsider with a commitment to the conservative principles that will make our nation stronger."

Romney, who has made countless appearances on behalf of McCain after giving up his own quest for the presidency in February, said he looks forward to campaigning for McCain, Palin "and Republicans across the country."

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., one of McCain's earliest and most loyal supporters in Utah, said he was excited about the choice of Palin. "In essence, you've got two mavericks on the ticket," the governor said.

Huntsman said he knows Palin from attending governors' conferences and that both share an interest in energy policy. The governor said once Utahns get to know her, they'll like her, too, even if she isn't what he called a "homeboy" candidate.

Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, said Friday that while Palin's "appointment comes as a surprise," he is sure she "will make a positive contribution to the McCain campaign. Palin brings administrative experience, energy and gender diversity to the ticket."

Hillary Clinton's Utah campaign chairman, Donald Dunn, doubts Palin can lure her Democratic supporters.

"This race was never about gender," Dunn said. "It's about issues."

Speculation ran wild overnight, with reports that Romney would join McCain in Ohio — and at least one report early Friday, in the online newsletter Politico, suggesting the former Massachusetts governor wasn't going.

Romney had long been seen as a frontrunner in the so-called "veepstakes" because of a strong business background that brought him great personal wealth. McCain has admitted being weak on economic policy, shaping up as a major issue in the campaign.

And because Romney's father, the late George Romney, had served as a popular governor of Michigan, Romney was also expected to be able to help capture Michigan for the Republicans in November.

Additionally, Romney's membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was likely to attract voters in the West where a number of states, including Nevada and New Mexico, are up for grabs.

But his chances of becoming McCain's No. 2 appeared to dim after Obama named his former rival for the White House his running mate.

The GOP jumped on Biden's own words against Obama during the primaries, when Biden questioned Obama's lack of experience. McCain and Romney, of course, battled bitterly until Romney dropped out of the presidential race.

Romney won Utah's GOP primary on Feb. 5 with an overwhelming 90 percent of the vote but lost other key states to McCain on that Super Tuesday, including California. Uthans donated $6 million to his presidential campaign.

Contributing: Associated Press

E-mail: [email protected]