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“If flip-flopping is a sin, I’m a sinner,” Mr. Dobson said. “As you know, I once said I don’t see how I could ever come to support John McCain.”

Mr. Dobson praised Mrs. Palin’s reform credentials, but social conservatives said they were also excited about her pro-family and pro-life stances. Fiscal conservatives pointed to her support for tax cuts and her opposition to pork-barrel spending as reasons to get excited.

“She is the best possible choice,” Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly, longtime leading spokeswoman of the social conservative movement, told The Washington Times. “She’s right on all the important ideas.”

Paul M. Weyrich, a founder of the modern conservative movement, added, “I must say, I never expected Senator McCain would make this good of a VP appointee. He could not have selected anyone better.”

Watch video of Ralph Hallow discussing the Republican convention coming up next week

The Obama campaign, which has had to fend off GOP attacks about its candidate’s relative inexperience, immediately went after Mrs. Palin, a one-term mayor of tiny Wasilla, Alaska, before she was eleced governor, on just that score.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel said the choice represented “political panic,” and the Obama campaign put out a quick dismissive statement, saying Mrs. Palin had “zero foreign policy experience.”

The McCain campaign immediately fired back.

“It is pretty audacious for the Obama campaign to say that Governor Palin is not qualified to be vice president,” said McCain spokesman Jill Hazelbaker. “She has a record of accomplishment that Senator Obama simply cannot match. Governor Palin has spent her time in office shaking up government in Alaska and actually achieving results. … Senator Obama has spent his time in office running for president,” she added.

But Mr. McCain’s selection of a woman complicates the Democrats’ strategy on how hard to attack the Republican ticket.

Shortly after the harsh initial response, Mr. Obama and running mate Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. issued a far more measured statement congratulating the Alaska governor.

Mr. Obama, speaking with reporters while touring a bio-diesel plant in Monaca, Pa., called Mrs. Palin a “compelling person” and chided his own staff for the harsh tone of the first response.

“I think that, you know, campaigns start getting these hair triggers,” he said. “The statement that Joe and I put out reflects our sentiments.”

The GOP ticket now could have stronger appeal to Democratic women voters unhappy at Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s loss in the Democratic primary.

Mrs. Clinton in a statement called Mr. McCain’s choice “historic.”

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