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McCain shakes up staff

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Republican presidential candidate John McCain tweaked his campaign Wednesday by elevating aide Steve Schmidt to oversee day-to-day operations, in a move to give his presidential bid the stability and direction that many in his party feared were lacking.

It was the second overhaul Mr. McCain has made in less than a year, and was announced as he was traveling in Colombia and Mexico.

Veteran Republican campaign operatives said the move gives the senator from Arizona a strong central presence in his Arlington headquarters that was missing under the campaign's unorthodox regional structure.

"Steve clearly has proven through his involvement at the NRCC, for Bush at the White House, for Schwarzenegger, that he can craft a message and get a campaign to stick to it, but is also a great manager," said one Republican strategist who asked for anonymity to be able to speak freely about a colleague. "The criticism you've seen of McCain's campaign so far, he can help solve some of those problems."

McCain campaign manager Rick Davis relayed the news to staffers Wednesday.

Charlie Black, a top campaign adviser, said Mr. Schmidt will function "basically as the chief operating officer under Rick and will do more day-to-day management." Mr. Davis will focus on long-term planning.

"There is no shake-up when you take a key member of the campaign and give him more responsibility," Mr. Black said.

"That's what Steve Schmidt has been - a senior member of the team - and it was Rick's idea for him to take on more responsibility," he said.

Although more second-tier staff will be hired, Mr. Black said, "no one at the senior level would be coming into or leaving the McCain campaign."

Some pundits in the press speculated that Mr. Schmidt's elevation would open the door for Mike Murphy, a media consultant who served in the 2000 McCain presidential campaign, and Scott Reed, who managed Bob Dole's 1996 White House bid.

Mr. Schmidt, who has worked for President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, declined to comment.

Democrats said that tapping a Bush aide underscores Mr. McCain's ties to the unpopular president.

"It's no surprise that John McCain would put a Bush-Cheney veteran in charge of his campaign since he's been promising a third Bush term and relying on money raised by President Bush and his friends," said Democratic National Committee spokesman Damien LaVera. "No matter who's steering the ship, it's going to be rough sailing as long as John McCain keeps promising four more years of President Bush's failed policies."

Mr. Schmidt advised the campaign throughout the primaries. Mr. Davis has taken a higher profile as a surrogate for Mr. McCain on television, and will continue to focus on long-term planning.

Mr. McCain has hired other veterans of the Bush campaign and White House, such as Nicolle Wallace, who was communications director for both the 2004 campaign and the White House.

Mr. Schmidt was communications director for the Republican National Committee under Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, was one of the 2004 Bush campaign's inner circle, worked for Mr. Cheney in the White House, and ran Mr. Schwarzenegger's 2006 re-election bid. He then went to work for Mr. McCain.

Critics have called the campaign disorganized, and have said Mr. McCain needs to give his operation more direction to compete with Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, the presumed Democratic nominee, who fine-tuned his operation over the course of a bruising primary campaign.

A Republican campaign operative who worked with Mr. Schmidt said he is "not a brilliant analyst" in the vein of Bush strategist Karl Rove, but that he will bring vital organization to the campaign.

"People can argue about whether it's the right strategy, but at least he can get everybody moving in the right direction," said the operative, who asked for anonymity to be able to discuss a colleague more freely.

Mr. McCain made his first shake-up last July. With his campaign floundering and his fundraising failing, he ousted longtime adviser John Weaver and campaign manager Terry Nelson, put Mr. Davis in charge and went on to win enough delegates to secure the Republicans nomination.

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About the Author
Ralph Z. Hallow

Ralph Z. Hallow

Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.

 

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