When Mark Kirk gave his victory speech on November 2nd, he thanked a trio of aides for helping him to a close win over Democrat Alexi Giannoulias. Among them was Steve Schmidt, a former chief strategist to the 2008 John McCain campaign for president.
Schmidt, who confirmed via email his work for the Kirk campaign, works out of Sacramento, California, and was rarely on the ground in Illinois for the Senate race. But a source close to the campaign said the 40-year-old political consultant revved up his participation in the campaign after Memorial Day, when the Giannoulias opposition research team hit on a goldmine—Kirk’s exaggeration of his military record.
Schmidt played a role in pushing Kirk to apologize, and, in the end, enough voters accepted the veteran congressman’s explanation to promote him to the Senate seat once held by President Obama.
Schmidt’s oversized, bald head atop a tall, bulky body became a familiar sight during the 2008 McCain campaign. He pushed for the selection of Sarah Palin for vice president and prepared her for interviews and her debate with Joe Biden. But by early this year, he did a 180 and blasted Palin during a 60 Minutes interview for being dishonest during the campaign and since.
In November 2009, Kirk, then in the primary race, engaged in a brief (albeit unconfirmed) flirtation with Palin, sending a memo through an intermediary to the former Alaskan gov, who was coming to Chicago to promote her book, Going Rogue, on Oprah. Kirk apparently was trying to persuade Palin to give her blessing to him as the Republican most able to win Obama’s Senate seat for the GOP.
Schmidt was said to have advised Kirk that dancing with Palin or the Tea Partiers was not a smart move in the blue state of Illinois.
The GOP consultant, who in 2008 was named by PR Week as one of the top 25 leaders in the industry, is set to join the public relations firm, Edelman, on December 1st as Vice Chairman of Public Affairs.