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John McCain's secret weapon against smears this time

January 19, 2008 |  3:30 am

John McCain's campaign has aggressively reacted against negative attacks this year with its “truth squad” of state leaders. But the truth is, their secret weapon may actually be the Arizona senator's wife, Cindy. She's using a softer approach to prevent a repeat of the smears on her family from the 2000 South Carolina primary.

In the last few days leading up to today's voting, she told voters in Aiken and Columbia the story of how 15 years ago the couple adopted their daughter Bridget, who is now 16, from an orphanage in Bangladesh. Eight years ago, anonymous McCain foes used phone calls and fliers to insinuate the dark-skinned Bridget was really McCain’s illegitimate “black baby.” And McCain lost that election.

Cindy McCain, cutting an elegant figure in her charcoal suit, black turtleneck and pearl drop earrings, took the microphone from its stand in Aiken and walked from the stage into the crowd, telling the ....

audience in confidential tones that she was going to share a little something about McCain “the man.”

While working at Mother Teresa’s orphanage in Bangladesh in the early 1990s, McCain said, “I stumbled upon the most beautiful little girl I’d ever seen. She had a terrible cleft palate. She had problems with her feet. She had problems with her hands. She had all kinds of problems.”

“As only Mother Teresa can do," McCain continued, "she prevailed upon me to take this baby and another baby –- get them out of the country and take them to the United States for medical care.” On the flight from Bangkok to Los Angeles, McCain said she realized, “I couldn’t give this child up.... She had chosen me. That’s just as simple as it was.”

“Well, the kick in this was I hadn’t told my husband,” Cindy said, as the Aiken crowd chuckled appreciatively. “So when I stepped off the plane in Arizona, I was holding her, and John met me at the airport, and, of course, there were a lot of cameras there.... And he whispered down to me and said, 'Well, where’s she going to go?'

“I looked up at him and sort of thought ‘Well, our house – how about that?’ And that’s simply the way I introduced him to his new daughter. He has loved her the same way I have for 16 years,” Cindy McCain said.

“I’d like to leave you with this," McCain said. "To love a child and be handed a child, without any option in it, is one thing. But what John has done with our children is to instill in them the things that were most important to him ... that is, duty, honor and country. And he, by example, taught our children what was most important, and that is to put country ahead of self, and that makes me love him so much.”

Then, Cindy McCain handed the microphone to her “partner, friend and husband, John McCain.” And she took her seat.

-- Maeve Reston

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