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Palin Made an Impression From the Start

McCain's advisers conducted interviews with a number of the prospective choices, but McCain did not. Most he knew well enough to have a sense of their personalities, policy positions and character. Among those who never met personally with McCain was Romney. The two men had waged a bitter and often-personal battle for the Republican nomination and when the primaries ended, Romney seemed an unlikely choice because of their distant personal relationship.

But since then, the relationship had improved notably. His background as a business executive and his Michigan roots appeared to make him a good fit with McCain.

On Thursday, Romney happened to be on a fundraising tour in California -- with businesswoman Meg Whitman, who was also talked about as a possible McCain pick. Both were in the dark about their prospects, which became more and more awkward as reporters asked questions they could not answer.

Finally, Romney aides called the McCain campaign and pleaded for information, according to a person who talked with him throughout the process. McCain called Romney on Friday morning to tell him he had not been picked.

Spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said Romney harbors no ill feelings toward McCain, having never believed he would be the running mate. "It never seemed likely to us because they disagreed on some issues during the primaries, and there were so many other good Republicans to choose from, including Sarah Palin," he said. But some close associates said that Romney's advisers were angry about having been strung along until the last minute.

McCain aides were under pressure not to allow the name of McCain's running mate to leak on the final night of the Democratic National Convention, fearing that would be seen as a deliberate attempt to draw attention away from Barack Obama's acceptance speech.

Hers to Lose

For all the focus on Pawlenty, Romney and Lieberman, Palin was the leading candidate by the beginning of last week. Davis had spoken with her a number of times. The McCain camp had reviewed everything it could find on her, including videotapes of her public speeches and interviews. "She makes a great speech," one adviser observed.

Last Sunday night, McCain talked to Palin by phone from Arizona in what aides described as a somewhat-lengthy call that resulted in McCain asking her to come to Arizona.

On Wednesday Palin flew to Flagstaff. That night she conferred with Schmidt and Salter. The next morning around 7, the three of them, along with a Palin aide, climbed into an SUV with tinted windows to begin the 45-minute drive to McCain's retreat in Sedona.

When they arrived, McCain offered Palin some coffee before taking her to a bend in a creek on the property where there are places to sit and a hawk's nest looming above. It is one of McCain's favorite places, and the two talked alone there until they were joined by McCain's wife, Cindy, who is described as having played a key role throughout the selection process.

After about an hour, Palin joined her aide on the deck of McCain's cabin, while the candidate and his wife went for a walk along the creek. When they returned, McCain held one last session with aides Schmidt and Salter. Then he offered Palin the job. The deal was sealed "with a handshake, a pat on the back," one adviser said.

All that was left was one more secretive trip, from Arizona to Dayton, where the announcement was going to be made at a rally at Wright State University. Salter and Schmidt accompanied Palin on that final leg, and her family in Alaska was alerted only at the last minute that a plane was being sent to bring them to Ohio.

Early Friday morning, Palin's name finally began to leak. But that did nothing to mitigate its complete surprise.

"We have high confidence in her ability to demonstrate to the people of the United States that she's ready to be vice president," a senior campaign official said. "And Senator McCain thinks she's prepared to be vice president, with all the duties and responsibilities there."

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