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McCain picked Palin from 26 possible VPs in 'high risk, high reward' move

April 18, 2009 |  5:46 am

The Republican presidential ticket of 2008 Arizona Senator John McCain and alaska Governor Sarah Palin greeting fans in Media Pennsylvania

Last summer, about-to-be Republican presidential nominee John McCain had a long list of 26 possible vice presidential running mates. None of them knew he or she was being considered.

Ronald Reagan's former counsel A.B. Culvahouse was in charge of the candidate partner vetting process and helped the Arizona senator pare down the list. But McCain, Culvahouse revealed Friday, was intrigued by Sarah Palin, the 44-year-old Alaska governor and mother of five.

That was understandable, the former presidential aide said. Even the most cynical of his 30 Washington, D.C., attorney vetters were impressed by her presence. "She fills up a room," Culvahouse told a Washington meeting of the Republican National Lawyers Assn. (See video below.) Even difficult questions, he said, she knocked "out of the park" during the vice president interview process.

The lawyer said standard Washington procedure would have been to choose a running mate with the best political resume. But, he said, he had an arrangement with McCain: that he'd have direct communications with the senator and that McCain would not select any partner unvetted by Culvahouse.

His orders from McCain were to find "someone who had the capacity to be president," Culvahouse said. His team produced 50-page reports on each candidate, drawing from their own investigations and the potential candidate's detailed answers to 74 questions, including "Have you ever been unfaithful?"

Near decision time, Culvahouse said, McCain asked him for the "bottom line" on Palin.

"John," Culvahouse replied, "high risk, high reward."

To which McCain, the former Vietnam attack pilot who flew off and landed on aircraft carriers before spending more than six years as a POW, replied, "You shouldn't have told me that. I've been a risk-taker all my life."

Culvahouse said the McCain campaign knew everything about Palin going in, including the pregnancy of her unmarried teenage daughter, Bristol.

Culvahouse said Palin would have been "a great vice president," while admitting she wouldn't have been ready by Jan. 20. But, he added, hardly anyone would be ready, except perhaps the very experienced Dick Cheney.

The full Culvahouse remarks are on the video below, and our blogging colleague Mark Silva has more details over at the Swamp.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Joseph Kazcmarek / Associated Press  (McCain and Palin greet fans in Pennsylvania).