WASHINGTON -- John McCain's top campaign strategist in 2008 says that Mitt Romney's much-discussed tax returns were not the reason that the Republican candidate chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, but he did acknowledge that Romney's wealth played a factor in the decision.

"I get the political hyperbole and all, but that’s not the way the decision was made," Steve Schmidt told The Huffington Post. "We never sat around having a discussion about Mitt Romney's taxes through the prism of a liability if he were chosen" for the ticket.

But he added that Romney's wealth was seen as a liability - "Sen. McCain got caught flat-footed answering a question about how many houses he owned. In fact, they were Cindy McCain's properties but that distinction was lost in the political optics and we knew it would be a big liability that the presidential and the vice presidential candidates together owned more than a dozen homes. It was like something out of a 'Saturday Night Live' skit. I mean, come on."

Schmidt is probably best know outside of political circles as the campaign adviser played by actor Woody Harrelson in "Game Change", the HBO movie that detailed the disastrous behind-the-scenes vetting of the Alaska governor. The film traces Schmidt's mounting horror as he realizes Palin is out of her depth and was haphazardly vetted.

In real life, Schmidt says he was not personally involved with vetting Palin, Romney or any of McCain's other potential running mates. But while he never saw any of the 23 years' worth of tax returns that the former Massachusetts governor submitted to McCain's team, he was in on campaign briefings and read executive summaries about the vetting process. And he says Democrats who suggest McCain dumped Romney from his short list because of what was in those tax returns "have no way of knowing any of the basis of that statement. It’s a rhetorical flourish."

Controversy over Romney's record at Bain Capital and the firm's role in shipping jobs overseas has been building for weeks. This weekend, Romney demanded that President Obama apologize for the attacks. The president responded that he won't refrain from such charges.

And at least two Obama campaign surrogates have now doubled down on the argument that Romney must be hiding something. Last week, at the National Governors Association meeting, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley suggested that McCain, after looking at Romney's tax returns, decided that the untested Palin was a better choice as running mate.

"Why would you pick Palin over Romney?" he asked in an interview with BuzzFeed. "His failure to release those is a bit of an implicit admission of...guilt."

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined in on Sunday, telling ABC News's George Stephanopoulos that Romney's lack of transparency in 2012 is no accident.

“He has only released one year, to the McCain campaign he released 23 years. And he’s telling the people, ‘I’m not going to give you what I gave John McCain’s people in 2008.’ And when he gave them 23 years, John McCain’s campaign looked at it and went, ‘Let’s go with Sarah Palin.’ So whatever’s in there is far worse than just the first year," Emanuel said.

"It's totally unfair. They don’t know any of the facts," Schmidt said of the inference about Romney's tax returns. "But it's hard to refute. And the bottom line is the American people don’t trust politicians so nobody gets the benefit of the doubt and the utterance of the accusation does damage. People believe you’re hiding something. It's wrong, it's unfair, but it's life in the big leagues.”

In the book "Game Change", on which the HBO movie was based, authors John Heilemann and Mark Halperin wrote that Romney, former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty were all on McCain's short list of potential running mates, "but game changers they were not." They also wrote that the campaign viewed Romney's Mormonism as a strike against him.

Schmidt told HuffPost that there was a "consensus" in the campaign that amid "extraordinary enthusiasm for Obama" and a "bad climate for Republicans," McCain needed a so-called gamechanger like Palin. After a hard-fought GOP primary featuring "endless hours of these guys attacking each other," it was decided that a McCain-Romney combination was "not a ticket that could win.”

After McCain's preference for independent Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman was shot down by Republicans, Palin got the nod.

"Right or wrong, we came to the conclusion that our convention wouldn't come out ahead with" Romney on the ticket, Schmidt said, "so we went in a different direction."

Also on HuffPost:

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  • Bob McDonnell

    <strong>Who:</strong> Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> McDonnell <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/20/bob-mcdonnell-mitt-romney-endorsement_n_1218559.html" target="_hplink">endorsed Mitt Romney</a>, the only candidate besides Ron Paul to make it on his state's ballot, and Romney <a href="http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0711/59933.html#ixzz1TJCfqwQ4" target="_hplink">said last summer </a>that McDonnell would be on "any candidate's short-list" as a VP pick. Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.)<a href="http://goosecreek.patch.com/articles/veep-speculation-greets-mcdonnell-in-s-c" target="_hplink"> has already started referring </a>to McDonnell as "Mr. Vice President." <strong>His Response:</strong> McDonnell said on "Meet The Press" in March that he wasn't interested in the position. "I've got the job held by Jefferson and Henry," <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/maryland-politics/post/martin-omalley-touts-bob-mcdonnell-for-vice-president-kind-of/2012/03/11/gIQATP6I5R_blog.html" target="_hplink">he said</a>. "I love being governor of Virginia."

  • Chris Christie

    <strong>Who:</strong> New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Christie <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/04/chris-christie-president-2012_n_948401.html" target="_hplink">fielded numerous calls</a> to run in 2012, and is now attracting speculation as a possible VP pick by Mitt Romney, who called Christie, "one of the leading figures in the Republican party." <strong>His Response:</strong> Christie didn't do much to quell the rumors in December when he <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/23/chris-christie-vice-president-mitt-romney_n_1167557.html" target="_hplink">addressed them</a> by saying: <blockquote>I don't think you talk about that stuff. I think if you're the nominee you're afraid to talk about that stuff because you don't want to jinx yourself. I don't think [Romney] wants to be presumptuous enough to start talking to somebody about a vice president when he's not yet the nominee.</blockquote>

  • Marco Rubio

    <strong>Who:</strong> Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Newt Gingrich <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/30/newt-gingrich-marco-rubio_n_1242912.html" target="_hplink">called Rubio</a> an "awfully good" choice, while Mitt Romney named him as an obvious choice for the short-list. As the Huffington Post's Carlos Harrison <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/02/marco-rubio-tea-party_n_1249480.html?ref=gingrich-2012" target="_hplink">reported</a>, "He's the posterboy for a demographic coveted by the GOP: a telegenic Tea Party favorite and a Latino. And despite being both young and a freshman among Washington, D.C., power brokers, he exerts outsized influence." <strong>His Response:</strong> Rubio himself <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/10/i-am-not-going-to-be-the-vp-nominee/" target="_hplink">seems less enthusiastic</a>: <blockquote>When asked at the Washington Ideas Forum at the Newseum in Washington DC, Rubio repeated twice for emphasis, "I am not going to be the Vice Presidential nominee. I am not going to be the Vice Presidential nominee." Asked during the forum if he would turn down an offer if the Republican presidential nominee asks him to, Rubio responded, "Yea, I believe so," adding again, "the answer is gonna be no."</blockquote>

  • Brian Sandoval

    <strong>Who:</strong> Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Ahead of the Nevada caucus, Sandoval <a href="http://2012.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/02/could-mitt-romney-pick-up-a-vp-in-nevada.php" target="_hplink">was speculated</a> to be a potential VP pick: <blockquote>Nevada's governor Brian Sandoval has been bandied about as a potential -- if longshot -- veep choice since his election in 2010. On paper, his resume looks solid. He's a young rising star in the party with strong approval ratings and, as a Hispanic Republican, could help a Republican nominee -- and especially Romney -- stop the bleeding with one of the party's weakest general election demographics. </blockquote> While no candidates have floated his name for VP yet, Mitt Romney <a href="http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2012/jan/26/mitt-romney-mentions-brian-sandoval-cabinet-possib/" target="_hplink">did mention him</a> as a possible Cabinet member. <strong>His Response:</strong> After endorsing Rick Perry last September, Sandoval <a href="http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2011/09/16/nevada-gov-brian-sandoval-wont-be-rick-perrys-vice-presidential-pick/" target="_hplink">denied that he was looking for a VP nod</a>. "I am absolutely committed to serving out my term," he said.

  • Nikki Haley

    <strong>Who:</strong> South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Haley's endorsement of Mitt Romney <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/22/nikki-haley-romney_n_1221682.html" target="_hplink">didn't do him much good</a> in the state, but her name has still come up as a possible candidate for VP. <strong>Her Response:</strong> "I'd say, 'Thank you, but no,'" <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/News/south-carolina-gov-nikki-haley-shed-turn-vp/story?id=16050396#.T3nGGCvLx1Z" target="_hplink">Haley told ABC News</a>. "I made a promise to the people of this state. And I think that promise matters. And I intend to keep it."

  • Susana Martinez

    <strong>Who:</strong> New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Martinez has attracted attention as the first female Hispanic governor, and Mitt Romney <a href="http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2012/01/23/new-mexico-gov-susana-martinez-says-no-thanks-to-mention-her-as-possible-romney/" target="_hplink">mentioned her</a> as a good possible running mate. <strong>Her Response:</strong> Martinez <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/205571-nm-governor-not-interested-in-vp-spot" target="_hplink">has said</a> she's flattered, but not interested: <blockquote>"She has no interest in serving as vice president and will not be a candidate for the position," Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said in a statement according to the Santa Fe New Mexican on Friday. </blockquote>

  • Haley Barbour

    <strong>Who:</strong> Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Barbour was considered a promising candidate for the 2012 nomination until he <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/25/haley-barbour-2012-presid_n_851969.html" target="_hplink">decided not to run</a> last summer. Mitt Romney has mentioned Barbour as a name <a href="http://www.examiner.com/charleston-democrat-in-charleston-sc/romney-names-possible-vp-candidates" target="_hplink">he'd consider</a> for vice president. <strong>His Response:</strong> Barbour wouldn't turn down the possibility of being VP, but he said he didn't anticipate being asked. "I don't think I'm a good running mate for anybody, but I do think Marco Rubio would be very attractive as would other people," <a href="http://foxnewsinsider.com/2011/11/07/mississippi-gov-haley-barbour-on-whether-he-would-consider-being-a-vp-pick-in-2012/" target="_hplink">he told FOX last November</a>.

  • Mitch Daniels

    <strong>Who:</strong> Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Daniels hasn't endorsed a candidate yet, but he's considered a potential pick for the VP slot. His book, "Keeping the Republic: Saving America by Trusting Americans," <a href="http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2011/09/19/mitch_daniels_stirs_vp_buzz_with_new_book_111382.html" target="_hplink">added to the hype</a>. <strong>His Response:</strong> Daniels was asked about the possibility <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/30/2012-gop-vice-presidential-candidate_n_988558.html" target="_hplink">last fall</a>: <blockquote>"There's no answer to this question," Daniels said when the vice president's job came up while he was promoting his book. He said he'd have to consult his family, which earlier vetoed the idea of him running for president.</blockquote>

  • Jan Brewer

    <strong>Who:</strong> Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Brewer made headlines for a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/30/jan-brewer-pac-obama-fundraiser_n_1241794.html" target="_hplink">confrontation with President Barack Obama</a> at an airport in Phoenix. Does Brewer want another chance to take on the Obama administration? The <a href="http://www.azcentral.com/news/election/azelections/articles/2011/10/16/20111016brewer-vice-president-hopeful.html" target="_hplink">Arizona Republic</a> reports that her name has surfaced as a possible VP candidate. <strong>Her Response:</strong> None so far.

  • Tim Pawlenty

    <strong>Who:</strong> Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Pawlenty was a short-lived presidential candidate, quitting in the summer after a third-place finish in the Iowa straw polls. He later endorsed Mitt Romney, who named him as a <a href="http://www.examiner.com/charleston-democrat-in-charleston-sc/romney-names-possible-vp-candidates" target="_hplink">possible VP candidate</a>. <strong>His Response:</strong> Pawlenty <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/24/tim-pawlenty-mitt-romney-vice-president_n_1299377.html" target="_hplink">said in an interview</a> that he'd taken himself "off the list" to be considered as Romney's VP.

  • Rob Portman

    <strong>Who:</strong> Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Portman is a supporter of Mitt Romney. In December, his home state's <em>Dayton Daily News</em><a href="http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/politics/portman-still-viable-as-vp-nominee-1301194.html" target="_hplink"> ran an article</a> touting his chances to become VP: <blockquote>His deep resume and absence of political negatives keep him in the discussion as a vice-presidential candidate. "I would be very surprised if the eventual nominee doesn't have Rob on the short list,'' said Tony Fratto, who served as White House press secretary to former President George W. Bush.</blockquote> <strong>His Response:</strong> Portman is noncommittal about being on anyone's presidential ticket. "I truly am not seeking that," he said in an interview with the Dayton Daily News' Washington Bureau.

  • Bobby Jindal

    <strong>Who:</strong> Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Jindal, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/12/bobby-jindal-rick-perry-endorsement-2012_n_959162.html" target="_hplink">who endorsed Rick Perry</a>, has seen his star fade <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/02/25/bobby-jindal-response-pan_n_169710.html" target="_hplink">since his widely panned State of the Union response</a> in 2009. But he is still viewed as a potential pick. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) <a href="http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2011/11/gov-scott-bobby-jindal-would-be-a-great-vp.html" target="_hplink">praised him</a>, saying, "He's well-liked. He's a nice person to deal with. He clearly cares about people. He's willing to make tough choices," Scott said. "So I think he would make a great vice president." <strong>His Response:</strong> "I don't want a job from Governor Perry," Jindal <a href=" http://blog.chron.com/rickperry/2011/09/bobby-jindal-wont-be-rick-perrys-vp-but-says-hes-a-great-neighbor/" target="_hplink">said after endorsing the former candidate</a>. "I want Governor Perry to create millions of jobs for my fellow Americans."

  • John Thune

    <strong>Who:</strong> Sen. Jon Thune (R-S.D.) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Thune, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/22/john-thune-2012-not-running-for-president_n_826582.html" target="_hplink">once viewed</a> as a potential 2012 candidate himself, has <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/23/mitt-romney-john-thune-endorsement_n_1109456.html" target="_hplink">since endorsed Mitt Romney</a>. <strong>His Response:</strong> Thune has said he's not interested in the VP role, but<a href="http://www.kcautv.com/story/16449478/south-dakota-senator-john-thune-not-interested-in-vp-race" target="_hplink"> he wouldn't rule anything out</a>.

  • Kelly Ayotte

    <strong>Who:</strong> Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Ayotte was an early supporter of Mitt Romney. He gave her an endorsement of his own, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/22/mitt-romney-kelly-ayotte_n_1108125.html" target="_hplink">naming her</a> as a possible pick for vice president. <strong>Her Response:</strong> Ayotte said she was "surprised" by Romney's comment, but that "certainly it was an honor to be mentioned." "I am very committed to representing New Hampshire," she <a href="http://www.unionleader.com/article/20111130/NEWS0605/711309959" target="_hplink">told the <em>New Hampshire Union Leader</em></a>. "It is such a privilege to serve New Hampshire in the U.S. Senate."

  • Sam Brownback

    <strong>Who:</strong> Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> Brownback endorsed Rick Perry for president, <a href="http://www.kansas.com/2011/09/23/2029027/brownback-endorses-perry-for-president.html" target="_hplink">prompting speculation</a> that he could be looking for a spot as vice president. Brownback also briefly ran for president in 2008. <strong>His Response:</strong> During the last election cycle, Brownback <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/03/13/brownback-would-be-honore_n_91341.html" target="_hplink">said he'd be "honored"</a> to serve as John McCain's vice president. He hasn't yet commented this time around.

  • Allen West

    <strong>Who:</strong> Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) <strong>The Buzz:</strong> West has been named as a strong contender by a number of his peers, including Herman Cain, <a href="http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entries/herman-cain-endorses-allen-west-for-vice-presdient" target="_hplink">who called him an "excellent choice"</a>, and Nikki Haley, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/05/nikki-haley-allen-west_n_1405401.html" target="_hplink">who said he would make a "good" pick</a>. <strong>His Response:</strong> "Yes, well, right now, you know, the focus is, of course, being a good congressional representative," <a href="http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2012/04/06/allen_west_i_would_say_yes_to_vp_slot_on_gop_ticket.html" target="_hplink">West told CNN's Kyra Phillips</a>. "But if someone were to make that call to me, which I really doubt is ever going to happen, you would have to make sure that it is something that god would ordain for you, and you'd have to talk to your wife, my wife and my two daughters about. But we have always stepped up to the plate to serve our country. And if it's the right fit, then I will do so."