BOSTON — John McCain's search for a running mate was remarkable in that it was carried out in secret, concluded with a bang and conducted in sharp contrast to the freewheeling style of his early presidential campaign or his hard-charging Navy days.
The Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting spirited his ultimate choice, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, first to Arizona and then to Ohio on a pair of secret corporate jet flights. When her family joined her Thursday night, they stayed in a hotel under an assumed name.
And when it came time to announce Palin's selection on Friday morning in Dayton, Ohio, the news came as a surprise not only to the public, but also to members of her own staff 4,000 miles away in Anchorage.
"Nobody knew about his announcement this morning except (a traveling aide) and the governor's chief of staff, who found out about this last night," said Sharon Leighow, a Palin gubernatorial spokeswoman.
That was precisely McCain's intention.
After securing the Republican presidential nomination in February, the Arizona senator set out to find a running mate who would not only bolster his chances of winning the White House in November but also soothe those concerned that his age might place a question mark over his presidency. He announced the selection of Palin, 44, on his 72nd birthday.
McCain was determined to conduct the search with discretion. He tapped a famed Washington attorney, Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr., a onetime White House counsel to President Ronald Reagan, to lead the search. He also limited those with direct knowledge of his deliberations to his wife, Cindy, and a handful of aides, including campaign manager Rick Davis and senior advisers Mark Salter and Steve Schmidt.
Schmidt, who assumed control of the campaign's day-to-day operations this summer and instilled a missing sense of discipline, would tell those who asked about the process: "I don't talk about the veep."
On Aug. 23, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama created a political opening for McCain.
In tapping Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware as his running mate instead of his closest primary rival, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Illinois senator opened a gulf between his ticket and some of disaffected women who had labored to make Clinton the first female president. They were angry she had not even been formally vetted by Obama for the No. 2 spot on the ticket.
McCain, who had first met Palin in February at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, decided to call the governor last Sunday while he was in Phoenix and she was attending the Alaska State Fair.
Davis, the campaign manager, had been speaking with her throughout the selection process.
"John McCain followed her career and admired her tenacity and her many accomplishments," spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said Friday in a statement. "She was scheduled for a high-profile speaking role at our convention and included in the VP selection process because of his admiration for her strong reform credentials."
On Wednesday, Palin and her longtime political aide, Kris Perry, flew from Alaska to Flagstaff, Ariz. They were met by Schmidt and Salter at the home of Bob Delgado, chief executive officer of the Hensley Corp., the family business owned by Cindy McCain.
On Thursday morning, Palin and Perry met with McCain and his wife, who had returned overnight from a trip to the country of Georgia, at their family's retreat in Sedona, Ariz. About 11 a.m., as they sat on a deck on the same day that Obama was to accept his own party's nomination, McCain formally invited Palin to join him on the GOP ticket.
The senator then headed off for Phoenix and Dayton, while Palin, Perry, Schmidt and Salter flew separately to Middletown, Ohio, about 25 miles from Dayton.
The diminishing time before McCain's rally Friday, at which he was expected to not only announce but be joined by his running mate, prompted furious speculation throughout Thursday.
There was an early morning Joe Lieberman boomlet, but he remained on vacation on Long Island, N.Y. In the afternoon, attention shifted to Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who had been at the Democratic National Convention but abruptly canceled interviews so he could go home.
And throughout the day, there was an undercurrent about Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor. Once McCain's most bitter rival, he had raised over $20-million for the senator since dropping out of the race and spent Thursday flying up and down the California coast to meet with his donors and encourage them to support McCain.
As attention focused on those better-known members of the short list, Palin's family flew out of Anchorage on a Gulfstream jet. It touched down in Middletown about 10 p.m. Thursday.
Rather than risking being seen coming to McCain's hotel, the Palins and McCain's aides continued to the nearby Manchester Inn and Conference Center, where they checked in under another name. It was then that Palin's children, who had been told they were going to Ohio to celebrate their parents' wedding anniversary, also on Friday, were told for the first time that their mother would be a nominee for the vice presidency.