ABC News has learned that Warren Tompkins, one of the strategists of then-Gov. George W. Bush’s South Carolina campaign in 2000 — which Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., blamed for his family being slimed — is now a part of the McCain-Palin campaign team, albeit in an "unofficial" role.
Tompkins, a protégé of Lee Atwater, has been dispatched to North Carolina to assess the state for the McCain-Palin campaign, Southern GOP strategists tell ABC News.
The McCain campaign says only that Tompkins has "no official role" with the campaign. The Raleigh News and Observer spotted Tompkins in the state "surveying North Carolina for the McCain campaign to determine what can be done to shore up the state."
The news of Tompkins being brought on board the McCain campaign brings to a total of three the number of GOP operatives McCain now is using despite the fact that he once held them responsible for the ugly campaign that contributed to his South Carolina primary defeat, a campaign in which McCain’s wife Cindy was attacked for her past addiction to painkillers, and the McCains’ adopted Bangladeshi daughter Bridget was targeted as his illegitimate black baby.
Last month, to the dismay of many McCain 2000 alumni, McCain hired another former Palmetto State opponent, Tucker Eskew.
This week, as a wave of robocalls attacking Obama has been reported across the country, and some of those calls have been tied to Jeff Larson and his firm FLS-Connect, a client of Bush’s in 2000, whom McCain’s team back then held responsible for anti-McCain robocalls.
The recipient of one of the new McCain robocalls, Minnesota Democratic County Commissioner Chris Shoff, was reported in the Huffington Post and the New York Times as having tied the call to FLS-Connect, which has been paid more than $8 million by the Republican National Committee during this election cycle.
The McCain campaign has refused to comment.
Eight years ago, of course, McCain was much chattier on the subject of these types of calls.
"A lot of phone calls were made by people who said we should be very ashamed about her, about the color of her skin," McCain told one interviewer. "Thousands and thousands of calls from people to voters saying ‘You know the McCains have a black baby.’ I believe that there is a special place in hell for people like those."
"You’ve seen it — turn on the radio, turn on the television, and unfortunately now pick up the telephone and you’ll hear a negative attack against John McCain," McCain said during a February 2000 GOP debate in South Carolina.
"At a town hall meeting a mother stood up and she said, ‘Senator McCain, my son was 13 last year. We had a lot of trouble of explaining things to him that went on in Washington.’ She said, ‘Now he’s 14. He’s told me not long ago, "John McCain is my hero. He’s the man I want to be like." Well, last night he came into her room,’ she said, ‘and he had tears in his eyes because he had answered the phone and the phone call, even though he told the caller that he was 14, said, "Do you know that John McCain is a liar, and a thief and cheat?"’ Well, that night I called my people together. I said, ‘Take down our response ad. We’re running nothing but a positive campaign from now on.’ I committed to that, I promise that."
In 2001, McCain said he was "very unhappy" about his family being attacked, specifically identifying "the phone calls that said, ‘Do you know that Cindy McCain’s a drug addict?’…Phone calls saying, ‘Do you know the McCains have a black baby?’" Phone calls, he told Rolling Stone magazine that went out to the voting public of South Carolina "by the hundreds of thousands, yeah. And, you know, that’s really the ugly underside of politics."
In Maine, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine — an original member of McCain’s 2008 campaign kitchen cabinet who’s up for re-election — recently said the calls "don’t serve John McCain well. This kind of campaign call does not reflect the kind of leader that he is.”