"She gave a great convention speech. And we came out of that convention ahead in the polls," Schmidt recalled.
In public, Palin looked like the game changer McCain had wanted, but in private, the authors say she was struggling to learn too much too fast.
"Her foreign policy tutors are literally taking her through, 'This is World War I, this is World War II, this is the Korean War. This is the how the Cold War worked.' Steve Schmidt had gone to them and said, 'She knows nothing,'" Heilemann told Cooper. "A week later, after the convention was over, she still didn't really understand why there was a North Korea and a South Korea. She was still regularly saying that Saddam Hussein had been behind 9/11. And, literally, the next day her son was about to ship off to Iraq. And when they asked her who her son was going to fight, she couldn't explain that."
Still, Schmidt says she was a quick study. "And her focus was extraordinary. She was working 15, 16 hours a day," he said. "And we were pleased with the result. We were very pleased with the results."
Pleased, he said, until that interview with Katie Couric.
"When you consider even national security issues with Russia. As Putin, rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska. It's right over the border," Palin told Couric.
In her book, Palin accuses CBS News of editing the interview to make her look bad. But Steve Schmidt told us Palin did poorly because she didn't do her homework.
"I made the case to her that in my view, the reason that that interview was a failure was because she did not prepare for it. She was focused that morning on answering ten written questions from a small newspaper in Alaska called the Matsu Valley Frontiersman," Schmidt said.
"She thought Katie Couric was kind of going for 'gotcha' questions," Cooper remarked.
Schmidt replied, "I don't think that Katie Couric asked a single unfair question in that interview."
Over on the Democratic side, Halperin and Heilemann report that early in the campaign, a full year before the election, Hillary Clinton was so sure she'd win, she had already started preparing for her presidency.
"She had two top advisors start to plan her transition for after she won the general election, even before she was the nominee. That's how confident she was that things were headed in that direction," Halperin said.
What Clinton didn't realize, according to the authors, was that some of her fellow Democratic senators - whose support she thought she had - actually preferred Obama.
"The sort of mythology is that Hillary Clinton was the establishment candidate. That Obama had to run kind of a guerilla campaign against her. In fact, Obama was the establishment candidate. There were a number of United States senators, Democratic leaders, who secretly and privately encouraged him to run behind the Clinton's back," Halperin said.