On the day after Palin addressed the GOP convention in a speech that energized the party's religious conservatives, Schmidt showed up at a Log Cabin Republicans event and matter-of-factly told gay Republicans that they were "important to the fabric of this party" and that his sister and her partner were an important part of his life. "I encourage you to keep fighting for what you believe, because the day is going to come," he said.
Patrick Sammon, the group's president, said, "I don't think anyone could imagine Karl Rove going to a Log Cabin event."
The Log Cabin appearance aside, Schmidt's pedigree is enough to give chills to Democrats in California, a blue state. In 1998, looking to make his mark as a consultant, the green 27-year-old made his way to California from New Jersey. He was recruited to run Tim Leslie's race for lieutenant governor and later Matt Fong's U.S. Senate bid.
"Pragmatic politics," Leslie said, describing Schmidt's philosophy. "His major concern is how you win the election. If there were two candidates and one was more conservative, I really couldn't tell you which he would choose."
Leslie and Fong lost in the Democratic landslide a decade ago. Schmidt headed East, where he rose in GOP circles. He became Vice President Dick Cheney's spokesman, and oversaw President Bush's 2004 reelection "war room" -- the cadre of operatives responsible for attacking Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry and responding to any charges against Bush.