The governor describes the "very thorough" vetting process -- and the moment when he came to realize that he was not going to be chosen as Sen. John McCain's running mate.
As speculation in Minnesota reached a peak last Thursday, with reporters staking out the governor's residence in St. Paul, Gov. Tim Pawlenty already had concluded that he had been passed over for the job of a lifetime -- the chance to be Sen. John McCain's running mate.
In his first extensive remarks since McCain chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin instead, the Minnesota governor described the final apprehensive and hectic days before the selection and provided some details about a vetting process that he said lasted four weeks. Although Pawlenty said he didn't know of anyone specifically who was interviewed about him in Minnesota, he said the process was thorough.
Pawlenty said McCain called him last Friday about 7:30 a.m. to tell him of his running mate decision. But the governor said he had become convinced the day before, while he was in Denver attending the Democratic convention, that he wasn't the choice.
When high-ranking Republican officials canceled Pawlenty's speaking events in Denver and booked him on a 7 o'clock flight to Minnesota Thursday evening, many viewed it as a sign that he was McCain's pick. But Pawlenty thought otherwise. He said he knew that meant there wasn't enough time for him to fly to Dayton, Ohio, where McCain was to unveil his choice Friday morning.
"Just logistically, in my own mind, I knew this wasn't going to happen," he said.
Pawlenty said he was not told whether the choice had come down to him and Palin, but he spoke highly of the vetting done by the McCain campaign. "I can't speculate what they did or didn't do with others," Pawlenty said during an interview.
He described his vetting as "very thorough," during the interview Thursday at the GOP convention.
The campaign's vetting process was questioned after McCain selected Palin, who has since been stung by details of her background including an ongoing ethics investigation in Alaska, accounts of her use of a lobbying firm to garner federal money while she was mayor of her hometown, and the disclosure that her unmarried teenage daughter is pregnant. The McCain campaign has vigorously defended its review of Palin, saying she underwent close scrutiny and passed muster.
The campaign confirmed a Washington Post report that Palin and Pawlenty were the finalists for the job, but campaign spokesman Jeff Sadosky declined to comment on when McCain made his choice. Sadosky also said Pawlenty was thoroughly vetted, but declined to comment on how many people in Minnesota were contacted as part of the process.
Several former Pawlenty aides said this week they had been surprised that during the summer, when Pawlenty was frequently mentioned as a potential running mate, they knew of no one who was being contacted by McCain's staff. "If folks were getting called [they would likely call and say] 'Hey, I got one, did you get one?' " said David Gaither, Pawlenty's former chief of staff. Gaither said that no one "had reached out to me" from the McCain campaign, and that he did not know of others who had been called.
Pawlenty dismissed the importance of such comments. He added that because he had long known McCain, and because much information about him could be obtained electronically, actual interviews were limited. "We didn't have 16 people responding to requests," he said. "We didn't have random relatives and friends responding to requests.
"I'm not aware that they talked to anybody," he said.
Pawlenty said the vetting process began in late July or early August and had largely concluded by last week.
The McCain campaign said Pawlenty and Palin underwent similar vetting procedures, which included a form with 70 questions, a document search and financial, legal and health checks. Sadosky said there was "a comprehensive vetting process in place for all candidates," and that Palin and Pawlenty would also have been part of an earlier vetting of a larger group.
Waiting in St. Paul
Although Pawlenty hadn't been set to leave Denver for Minnesota until 7 p.m. last Thursday, he said he got an earlier flight. He said GOP officials, who had sent him to Denver to respond to Democrats at their convention, decided to have him cut short his trip because he was facing so many questions about the running-mate issue that it was impossible for him to get out the GOP message.
After returning to Minnesota that evening, Pawlenty attended his daughter's volleyball game and then returned to the governor's residence. He waved briefly to reporters standing outside the main gate. "[I] got home, watched some TV," he said. As reporters awaited word, cars honking their horns in anticipation of a Pawlenty selection passed by the residence and two unidentified young girls waved to onlookers from an upstairs window.
As the evening wore on and McCain did not call, Pawlenty went to bed. McCain called the next morning, about 90 minutes before Pawlenty was to appear at the Minnesota State Fair to do his weekly radio program.
Pawlenty has said he wasn't disappointed or angry at having been bypassed. As he has in the past week, he declined to offer details on what he and McCain discussed during the call. "I consider that a personal discussion," he said.
Staff writer Mark Brunswick contributed to this article.
Mike Kaszuba • 612-673-4388