The Magazine

How Palin Got Picked

The maverick candidate decided he wanted a maverick veep.

Sep 8, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 48 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Neither Romney nor Pawlenty, moreover, was the transformative pick McCain wanted. McCain thought that Palin might be.

McCain has had a long and sometimes heated rivalry with Alaska senator Ted Stevens, the upper chamber's greediest collector of congressional pork. Going back more than a year, McCain has used Stevens's pet project--the $389 million dollar bridge between Ketchikan, Alaska, and the island that hosts its airport that is known as the "Bridge to Nowhere"--in his stump speech as an example of the problems besetting Washington. Palin, who was skeptical of the project, ordered the state to find a "fiscally responsible" alternative. She has challenged the state GOP as corrupt and openly chastised establishment Republicans for failing to live up to conservative principles.

Not only has she bucked her own party, she has praised Democrats and done so at times that carried significant political risk. Earlier this month, at a time when she was regularly mentioned as a (longshot) McCain running mate, and just 24 days before McCain ultimately picked her, Palin put out a statement praising Barack Obama.

"I am pleased to see Senator Obama acknowledge the huge potential Alaska's natural gas reserves represent in terms of clean energy and sound jobs," she said of Obama's energy plan, released that day. "The steps taken by the Alaska State Legislature this past week demonstrate that we are ready, willing and able to supply the energy our nation needs."

She also praised Obama for recommending $1,000 rebates to help cover increased energy costs. "We in Alaska feel that crunch and are taking steps to address it right here at home," Governor Palin said. "This is a tool that must be on the table to buy us time until our long-term energy plans can be put into place. We have already enjoyed the support of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, and it is gratifying to see Senator Obama get on board."

In a telephone interview on August 22, one week before she was announced as McCain's running mate, I asked her about reports that she had "embraced" the Obama energy plan. She laughed and said:

I'm not embracing his plan. I said a couple of good things about it. But you know I find myself getting crucified once in a while for having dared say anything positive about a plan, or an aspect of a plan that comes from a Democrat. When you consider the gravity of the problems that we're dealing with right now--and that is dependence on foreign sources of energy to such a great extent that when someone sees the light, in this case Obama seeing the light, doing a little flip-flop there on offshore drilling, I'm going to say: "Yeah!" I'm going to say: "Good job, I'm glad you did that." So yeah I come out and I say something quasi-positive about it and yeah, you get in trouble for it.

Perhaps not surprisingly, while her praise for Obama did anger several McCain staffers, it did not upset the senator, who had met her in Washington shortly before he won the Republican nomination.

On Wednesday of last week, Palin flew with her top aide, Kris Perry, to Flagstaff, Arizona, where she met with Steve Schmidt and Mark Salter from McCain's campaign. The following day this group traveled to McCain's home in Sedona and met with the candidate and his wife, Cindy. McCain took Palin outside to his deck and offered her the job. (Decks are fast becoming the traditional location for Republican nominees to offer the job to their running mates, as George W. Bush asked Dick Cheney to join his ticket on the deck of his ranch.) Palin accepted and set in motion a plan that would shock the political world just 24 hours later.

Palin flew with Salter and Schmidt to Middletown, Ohio, and checked into the Manchester Inn. (She registered under the name Upton.)

No one on Palin's staff back in Alaska had any idea that she was going to explode onto the national political scene the following morning. "The only reason I ever thought anything is because I was asked by reporters if she was vetted by the McCain campaign," said McAllister. "And I told them no. The only thing I knew about was some biographical materials that they requested for the convention itself, for her speech." Some of her staff believed she was still in Alaska and planning to be at the State Fair on Friday.