[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/10/15/art.schmidt1.gi.jpg caption="Schmidt is defending John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin."](CNN) - Ten days after declaring Sarah Palin would be "catastrophic" to the Republican Party should she become its standard bearer in 2012, former McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt defended the choice of the former Alaska governor for the No. 2 spot on the GOP's presidential ticket last year.
"I believe to this day that had she not been picked as the vice presidential candidate, we would never have been ahead - not for one second, not for one minute, not for one hour, not for one day," Schmidt told students at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service Wednesday, according to the Web site Arkansasnews.com.
A CNN poll of polls immediately following the Republican National Convention in September 2008 showed the McCain/Palin ticket with a 2-point lead over its Democratic counterpart. But a similiar poll of polls two weeks later suggested that lead quickly evaporated.
Schmidt, among those in the campaign who lobbied McCain to pick Palin as his running mate, suggested Wednesday that President Obama's decisive win had more to do with the economy than either member of the Republican presidential ticket.
"We were three points ahead on September 15 when the stock market crashed, and then the election was over," he said.
Still, tensions ran deep between Schmidt and Palin through the campaign's final stretch, and Schmidt told CNN's John King earlier this month he's not expecting a flattering portrayal in the Alaska Republican's upcoming book, "Going Rogue."
"I think it may say that I was anti-rogue in the running of the campaign," Schmidt said.
In his Wednesday comments, Schmidt also cautioned Republican politicians not to follow the dictates of conservative talk radio hosts.
"Republican politicians who seek to lead the party, and in fact seek to lead the government, cannot be seen as kowtowing to the emperors of talk radio," he said. "If they are, then I think the broad middle of the electorate that decides elections disqualifies them from leadership."