John McCain Illegitimate Child

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Rumor: John McCain fathered an illegitimate, black child.

Portal: Politics
McCain Family Photo
McCain Family Photo
General Information
Origin Push poll in South Carolina
Source George W. Bush supporters
Start Date February 2000
End Date January 2001
Status Disproven
Narrative Elements
Type Wedge-driving
Location United States
Action Fathering an illegitimate child
Villain John McCain

During the 2000 South Carolina presidential primary campaign, a “push poll” (a political messaging strategy of pushing an agenda issue disguised as a survey of voter attitude and sentiment) subtly implied that candidate John McCain had an African American illegitimate child. This rumor was referencing John McCain's adopted daughter, Bridget, who is Bangladeshi and has dark skin pigmentation. This, along with other negative rumors about McCain, spread throughout the state, and he lost the primary to George W. Bush.


Story Form

This is a wedge-driving/hate rumor that was designed to erode political support for John McCain in the South Carolina Republican Primary of 2000. The rumor casts McCain as a villain with unscrupulous family values by "revealing" the "secret" that he fathered a black baby. Since McCain’s wife is white, then the fact of the black baby's existence proves, according to the rumor, that McCain had an extramarital affair, and, adding flame to the values-voter-fire, the affair must have been with a black woman. Thus, John McCain is positioned as a villain while the potential pro-McCain voter is the victim who has been duped into believing that McCain an upstanding individual. The structure of the rumor has no explicit hero, but George W. Bush was, at the time, somewhat scandal free.

Narrative Landscape

In an American south still plagued by racist notions, stories of miscegenation are still met with disapproval. Interracial marriage, while no longer illegal, is not culturally sanctioned. While the nation has been forgiving of drug-related indiscretions (rumors circulated widely about Bush and cocaine use, and about Clinton and marijuana smoking), large numbers of citizens remain steadfastly puritanical regarding extramarital affairs. The rumor also plays on the great fear of southern whites (since the days of plantations) of the defiling of the pure, white woman by a black man, and a black baby has been the iconic proof of white/black sexual indiscretions for generations.

McCain defeated George W. Bush in the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primaries, generating significant momentum. With the South Carolina primary preceding Super Tuesday, the Bush campaign needed to win South Carolina to slow McCain’s progress; otherwise, most political pundits agree, McCain would have been unstoppable and likely won the 2000 Republican nomination for president.

Known Facts

During the South Carolina primaries, voters received phone calls asking, "Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain...if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?" An email from Richard Hand, a professor at Christian fundamentalist Bob Jones University, circulated in February of 2000 with the claim that John McCain had fathered an illegitimate child.[1] McCain had adopted a Bangladeshi child of dark complexion, Bridget, in 1991. When voters saw McCain with Bridget, they assumed that the child was the illegitimate black child the calls and emails referenced. Other negative rumors against McCain spread, and McCain lost the primaries to George W. Bush. Speculation that Republican political consultant Karl Rove was the orchestrator of the attack campaign was denied by Rove.[2][3] John McCain's shift of image from maverick to much more traditional Republican has been attributed to the incidents of South Carolina.


  1. Gooding, Richard. "The Trashing of John McCain." Vanity Fair, November 2004.
  2. Banks, Ann. "Dirty Tricks, South Carolina and John McCain." The Nation, January 28, 2008.
  3. Celizic, Mike. "Karl Rove: I did not pull dirty tricks." Today, March 8, 2010. http://
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