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Palin Made an Impression From the Start

"We obviously were looking at a lot of different options," another adviser said. "We looked at base options, women, pro-choice, pro-life, people outside the party. It was a very broad and deep search. Most of the people we checked out never made it into the public domain, and some speculated on were very, very competitive for the job."

But this adviser added that because the process was so leak-free, the public knew little about the actual deliberations, and the campaign did not try to knock down incorrect speculation.

"It's a little naive on the part of the media to assume because they weren't reporting this [Palin's consideration] for the last few months, there's something up on this," this adviser said. "We didn't spend any time saying yes or no to any of the speculation -- just because everyone thought it was going to be Mitt Romney for a month, and then it was going to be Joe Lieberman for a month."

Aides said there were candidates even less known than Palin under consideration at points in the process. And, they argued, Palin is more experienced and capable than critics of the choice know. "She's got an ability that far exceeds her tenure in office."

'All Good Surrogates'

In public handicapping late last week, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney were seen as two of the finalists. Both had been dispatched to the Democratic National Convention as Republican surrogates, and their appearances there were described as final auditions for the position.

McCain aides scoffed at that characterization, calling it pure coincidence. "These guys are all good surrogates. They've done a thousand hours of surrogate work," one McCain adviser said. "I don't think we needed to audition anybody at the Democratic National Convention a week before ours. It's wonderful to fill cable time with it, but it's just nonsense."

Still, Romney and Pawlenty attracted considerable attention in Denver. When Pawlenty abruptly left there on Thursday, his disappearance sparked speculation that he was McCain's choice. One report said he had been given an informal heads-up only to be told later that there had been a sudden change in thinking in the McCain camp. A Pawlenty adviser who had been in contact with the governor through the day said he had gotten no such hint, and McCain advisers dismissed the report as unfounded.

According to one McCain adviser, Davis ordered Pawlenty to leave Denver in part because he was so bombarded by questions about the vice presidency that he couldn't deliver a tough, anti-Obama message. Davis also knew the campaign was about to make clear that McCain had made his selection and did not want Pawlenty put in an uncomfortable position.

Among others who received serious consideration was Lieberman, the Connecticut Democrat-turned-independent who had become one of McCain's closest friends and his traveling companion. His possible selection drew a sharply negative reaction among conservatives because Lieberman supports abortion rights and differs with McCain on many domestic issues.

Another name that was floated was that of former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, a fellow Vietnam veteran and longtime friend of McCain. But he, too, supports abortion rights.

Aides insisted that the backlash against Lieberman and Ridge did not influence McCain, that it was his genuine attraction to Palin as a fellow reformer that carried the day. "Sure we got some grass-roots negative feedback," one adviser said. "That was not likely to sway McCain. . . . He had a lot of good choices, including Lieberman. He liked a number of his choices."

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