McCain Hires GOP Operative Who Helped Smear Him in South Carolina in 2000

Former officials of Sen. John McCain's 2000 campaign expressed shock and disbelief Monday to learn than the GOP presidential nominee had hired South Carolina political consultant Tucker Eskew.

Eskew, along with Warren Tompkins and Neal Rhodes, were key members of then-Gov. George W. Bush's South Carolina team during the 2000 primaries. McCain and his team long held Bush, Tompkins, Rhodes and Eskew responsible for the various smears against McCain and his family in the Palmetto state during that contentious contest.

Eskew was brought on board the McCain campaign, it was announced Monday, to help prepare Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for her role as McCain running mate. Eskew will help Palin prepare for her Wednesday night acceptance speech at the GOP convention and for her stump speech as she hits the road, brief her on policy matters, and help her handle the media scrutiny a lifetime in Alaska does not necessarily prepare one for.

"He's one of the best and most collaborative talents in Republican politics," McCain senior adviser Nicolle Wallace told Politico, speaking of Eskew. "He also has a wit and an ability to turn a phrase like no one I've ever met before."

Eskew’s talent notwithstanding, he was loathed by McCain’s 2000 campaign team. When the media first reported push-poll phone calls from Voter/Consumer Research, a company hired by he Bush campaign, asking South Carolinians if they knew about McCain’s role in the S&L crisis and his scandal as a member of the Keating Five, it was Eskew -- Bush’s South Carolina spokesman – who acknowledged, and defended, the calls.

“Show me a baseless comment in those questions” about McCain, Eskew told the Charleston Post and Courier in February 2000.

McCain ally Lindsey Graham – then a South Carolina GOP congressman, now a senator – decried the tactics Eskew defended, holding a press conference along with two local Republican officials to denounce the phone calls.

"What happened last weekend is the great minds apparently went to Austin, Texas and all they could think of for a game plan was trash out John McCain,” Graham said. “That's not where I want my party to go."

The tactics used against McCain by Bush and his allies in South Carolina left a deep scar on both McCain and his wife Cindy.

When then-Gov. Bush called upon Eskew, Tompkins and Rhodes to help him during the Florida recount, a senior McCain adviser told me that “when the going gets tough for Governor Bush, he turns to the darker side of our party. We saw that in South Carolina, and we see that today."

Eight years later, with a tough fight of his own, McCain has turned to one of the same men. Asked if the McCain campaign would have a comment about hiring one of the South Carolina strategists the senator and his 2000 campaign team once held responsible for smears against him, McCain 2008 spokesman Brian Rogers emailed, "No."

- jpt

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