Sarah Palin touted her small-town roots and lashed out at Democrat Barack Obama during a highly anticipated speech to the Republican convention on Wednesday, ridiculing her critics as out-of-touch elitists who do not understand everyday life in America.
In her public debut in the spotlight, John McCain's choice for vice president drew roaring cheers from supporters when she came out swinging against Obama and members of the news media who have questioned her qualifications.
"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," the Alaska governor told the crowd, which chanted "Sarah, Sarah" and held signs reading "Palin power" and "Hockey Moms 4 Palin."
Since McCain made the virtually unknown Palin, 44, his choice for running mate, she has been the center of a media storm fueled by disclosures about her unmarried teenage daughter's pregnancy, a probe into her role in an Alaskan official's firing and questions about her political record.
McCain joined Palin and her family on stage at the end of her 36-minute speech as Republican delegates to the convention roared in excitement. "Don't you think we've made the right choice for the next vice president of the United States?" he asked.
Palin's anti-abortion and pro-gun history has fired up conservatives and party activists, but her convention speech was the first chance for most Americans to judge her for themselves.
The speech came just five days after Republican McCain shocked the U.S. political world by introducing the first-term governor as his running mate in the Nov. 4 election against Obama and his No. 2, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden.
Palin was sharp in her criticism of Obama, reminding the Republican crowd of his comments at a San Francisco fundraiser in April about bitter small-town residents.
"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.
"We tend to prefer candidates who don't talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco," she said.
Palin said her service as mayor and town council member in Wasilla, Alaska, had given her a realistic perspective.
(Watch the video above for CNBC's exclusive interview with Sarah Palin...)
"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. She contrasted that with Obama's background as a community organizer in Chicago and first-term senator from Illinois.
"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," she said.
"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities."
Palin said her small-town roots made her familiar with the dignity of work and the economic struggles of families, and said she had spent her first two years as governor fighting for working people and reducing the size of government.
She questioned Obama's sincerity and mocked his penchant for big speeches and a "cloud of rhetoric," making fun of his claim to have "fought for you."
"There is only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you," she said of McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
"In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers," she said. "And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change."
The furor over Palin has raised questions about McCain's judgment and the depth of the investigation that preceded her selection, and could put a dent in McCain's efforts to build momentum heading out of the convention.
McCain aides said they would answer no more questions about the process. "This vetting controversy is a faux media scandal designed to destroy the first female Republican nominee for vice president of the United States, who has never been a part of the old boys' network," McCain adviser Steve Schmidt said.
Candidates who lost to McCain in the Republican nominating battle also rallied around Palin, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who made a sharp attack on Obama.
(Watch the accompanying video for more...)
"How dare they question whether Sarah Palin has enough time to spend with her children and be vice president?" Giuliani told the crowd, which chanted "zero" after Giuliani said Biden had led nothing. "When do they ever ask a man that question?"
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee accused Obama of having a naive approach to foreign policy and said McCain would be tough enough to protect U.S. security.
"Maybe the most dangerous threat of an Obama presidency is that he would continue to give madmen the benefit of the doubt. If he's wrong just once, we will pay a heavy price," Huckabee said.
The McCain campaign released a television ad comparing Palin's experience with the qualifications of Obama. "She's earned a reputation as a reformer," the ad's narrator says. "His reputation? Empty words."
McCain had arrived in the St. Paul area on Wednesday and was greeted by his family and Palin's family. Among those meeting him were Palin's pregnant daughter Bristol, 17, and her boyfriend Levi Johnston, 18. McCain briefly chatted with both.
Palin, the first female Republican vice presidential nominee, stayed out of the public eye in Minnesota for two days while the revelations about her family and record in Alaska surfaced. She has yet to give a news interview or news conference.