Meghan McCain and Steve Schmidt challenge old GOP
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Meghan McCain and Steve Schmidt challenge old GOP
by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Meghan McCain's speech to the Log Cabin Republican National Convention grabbed media headlines this week, but even more surprising were the remarks of Sen. John McCain's former campaign manager Steve Schmidt.

The daughter of the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, Meghan McCain spoke to the LGBT Republican group last Saturday. In her speech, she warned of civil war in her father's Republican party.

"I think we're seeing a war brewing in the Republican party," she said. "But it is not between us and the Democrats. It is not between us and the liberals. It is between the future and the past. I believe most people are ready to move on to that future."

"Most of the old-school Republicans are scared shitless of that future," she added.

While McCain stopped short of explicitly endorsing same-sex marriage, her father's former campaign manager Steve Schmidt went all the way. Speaking the day before McCain, Schmidt told the Log Cabin Republicans "it cannot be argued that marriage between people of the same sex is un-American or threatens the rights of others."

"On the contrary," he continued, "it seems to me that denying two consenting adults of the same sex the right to form a lawful union that is protected and respected by the state denies them two of the most basic natural rights affirmed in the preamble of our Declaration of Independence - liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Schmidt's remarks are stunning because he has been so closely identified with the highest levels of Republican party leadership. Nicknamed "Bullet" for his shaved head and direct, combative style, Schmidt joined the Bush administration in 2003 as a deputy assistant to the president and counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney.

In 2004, he was a member of the senior strategic planning group led by Karl Rove that ran President Bush's re-election campaign. Schmidt managed the campaign's "war room." In 2005 and 2006, he was the White House strategist in charge of the successful US Supreme Court nominations of Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts.

In 2006, Schmidt left the White House to run the successful re-election campaign of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Schmidt joined the McCain campaign in July 2008, when it was widely perceived to be adrift. He is credited with transforming the campaign into an aggressive and disciplined operation.

A spokesman for Schmidt's firm, Mercury Public Affairs, told SGN, "Steve is not interested in doing a lot of interviews now." However, Schmidt has let it be known that he has a Lesbian sister and that he voted against California's Proposition 8, which repealed marriage equality in that state. He has also said he believes marriage rights for same-sex couples will return through an initiative "that passes by popular vote within the next few years."

While McCain and Schmidt have ties to many influential Republicans, it remains unclear whether their message will get through to Republican operatives. Called by SGN for comment, King County Republican Chair Lori Sotelo said, "I'm sorry, I haven't been briefed by the State [party organization] on that. I will have to get back to you."

Sotelo was not able to talk with SGN by press time, but she did e-mail a statement, which said "Clearly Miss McCain and Mr. Schmidt represent a portion of our party with a particular stance in regards to Gay Marriage. As the elected Chairman of the King County Republican Party it is my job to represent all Republicans in King County and to uphold the party platform. That isn't to say that I don't have my own personal beliefs on the subject. The Republican Party has a large tent and we become stronger as a party in our debate of important issues."

State Republican Chair Luke Esser did not respond to SGN's requests for a comment. Esser was formerly a state senator, representing the 48th District until he was defeated in 2006 by Republican-turned-Democrat Rodney Tom. At the outset of his political career, Esser was endorsed by the Washington State Log Cabin Republicans, but he became increasingly antagonistic to LGBT interests, boasting in 2004 that he had personally killed the Anderson-Murray Civil Rights Bill.

When asked by talk radio host Mike Gallagher if he could support legal recognition for same sex couples, Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele replied, "No, no, no. What would we do that for? What, are you crazy? No."

While Cindy McCain joined her daughter at a Log Cabin reception prior to Meghan's speech, Sen. McCain continues to keep a foot in each camp, cultivating relationships with both LGBT Republicans and anti-Gay religious conservatives. He has stated that marriage issues should be handled at the state level. As Senator, he voted for the federal DOMA, but he has opposed a constitutional amendment limiting marriage rights to opposite sex couples.