| BURBANK, California
BURBANK, California Former U.S. presidential candidate John McCain on Tuesday shrugged off criticism leveled at his running mate, Sarah Palin, saying he expects her "to play a big role in the future of this country."
The Republican senator from Arizona rallied to the defense of his vice presidential pick in an appearance on NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," his first television interview since losing his White House bid to Democrat Barack Obama a week earlier.
Asked by Leno about commentary from pundits across the political spectrum who judged the Alaska governor to be a drag on the Republican ticket, McCain, 72, denied she had hurt his campaign.
"I'm so proud of her and very grateful that she agreed to run with me. She inspired people. She still does," McCain said. "I couldn't be happier with Sarah Palin, and she's gone back to be a great governor, and I think she will play a big role in the future of this country."
Palin, virtually unknown outside her home state before McCain tapped her as his running mate in late August, in recent interviews has left open the possibility she may seek higher office.
Palin has drawn a strong following among the Republican Party's conservative base, but also substantial fire from critics who charged that her record as Alaska governor was at odds with her image as a political reformer.
As the 2008 presidential race drew to a close last Tuesday, the media was filled with stories attributed to McCain campaign aides questioning Palin's judgment, her readiness to serve and her intellect.
In addition to mounting criticism about pricey wardrobe purchases for her during the race, a recent Fox News Channel report cited unnamed campaign sources saying Palin did not know Africa was a continent and could not name the three countries that had signed the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Palin has dismissed such criticism as false smears planted by "jerks" too cowardly to speak publicly. William McGurn, a former speech writer for President George W. Bush and editorialist for the Wall Street Journal, urged McCain in a newspaper column on Tuesday to condemn the attacks on Palin.
Asked about them by Leno, McCain suggested such criticism amounted to sour grapes from people claiming to be campaign insiders.
"I think I have at least a thousand, quote, 'Top advisers,'" he said. "These things go on in campaigns, and you just have to move on."
Choosing the relaxed setting of America's top-rated late-night talk show for his first post-election TV interview, McCain joked that since the election he has been "sleeping like a baby."
"I sleep two hours, wake up and cry," he said to laughter, but when pressed he declined to second-guess his own campaign.
He also ruled out another run for president, saying: "I wouldn't think so, my friend ... we're going to have another generation of leaders coming along."
(Editing by Vicki Allen)