- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 15, 2000

Sen. John McCain has assembled a collection of top advisers as eclectic and complicated as himself in his bid to snatch the Republican presidential nomination from Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
The team brings together odd elements a taciturn Texas consultant waging his final political battle, a well-connected D.C. lobbyist, an aggressive conservative advertising consultant, maverick members of Congress, and a group of refugees from the failed 1996 presidential bid of Bob Dole.
"All of them bring a unique piece to the campaign," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican and one of Mr. McCain's earliest supporters.
The leader of the group seems an unlikely choice for Mr. McCain, who has made campaign-finance reform a centerpiece of his campaign. That is well-connected Washington lobbyist and fundraiser Rick Davis.
Mr. McCain has had to reach out to political veterans and Washington insiders such as Mr. Davis to organize and finance his long-shot campaign. Mr. Bush lined up early support from contributors and political operatives.
"When we sat around and gamed this thing out, we didn't think we'd have this much money," Mr. Davis told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after Mr. McCain's New Hampshire victory two weeks ago. "We didn't think we'd have this much organization. We didn't think we'd have this much ballot strength."
Mr. McCain's campaign did not return a telephone call seeking comment on Mr. Davis and the rest of the team yesterday.
He has also attracted the high-profile support of other inside-the-Beltway figures, including congressional colleagues, such as Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Fred Thompson of Tennessee, Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio, and a House impeachment manager, Rep. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
But the seed of the campaign came from outside Washington Texan John Weaver, whose downbeat style is so at odds with the impish Mr. McCain that the senator has taken to mocking him with the nickname "Sunny."
Mr. McCain credits Mr. Weaver with suggesting he run for president after the two worked together on Texas Sen. Phil Gramm's failed 1996 presidential bid.
"He rolled his eyes," Mr. Weaver told the Dallas Morning News earlier this year. "He didn't say I was crazy, but he gave me that look."
Mr. Weaver, who says he will retire after this campaign because of his wife's health, brings to Mr. McCain's camp an insider's knowledge of his opposition. Mr. Weaver was once executive director of the Texas Republican Party and has seen Mr. Bush up close.
"Bush is a unifier," Mr. Weaver once said in 1994 when Mr. Bush was attempting to unseat then-Gov. Ann Richards. "He has the ability to reach out to conservatives, independents and Democrats."
Mr. McCain's campaign has another Texas old hand in speech writer Mark Salter, who also once headed the state party.
But Mr. Salter's contribution has largely been rhetorical. He has managed to offset Mr. McCain's famously rough speaking style with some oratorical flash.
He wrote, for example, Mr. McCain's October speech announcing has candidacy, in which he likened his advocacy for campaign-finance reform to a patriotic crusade.
Closely related to Mr. Salter's work is that of media consultant Mike Murphy, a longtime Republican adman with a hard-edged reputation.
Mr. Murphy created ads in 1994 for Virginia Senate candidate Oliver North that reminded voters of rumored, but never proven, infidelity and drug use by Sen. Charles S. Robb, Virginia Democrat. He created ads for New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Christine Todd Whitman that sharply criticized incumbent Gov. Jim Florio for his tax increases and helped boot the Democrat from office in 1993.
Even though he is widely regarded as a capable media consultant, Mr. Murphy has a spotty record. Mr. North lost narrowly to Mr. Robb in Virginia. Two years later, Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole sacked Mr. Murphy shortly before the election.
Another media consultant and Dole veteran, Greg Stevens, has seen his share of embarrassments himself. In 1994, he was fired by Virginia Sen. John W. Warner after he doctored a video clip to show an opponent shaking hands warmly with Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder.
The media team ran into similar trouble last year with the McCain campaign. In one case, in a film about Mr. McCain's war record, they used footage of a pilot bailing out of an airplane, footage that was not of Mr. McCain. In another case, they had to change an ad showing Mr. McCain walking through Arlington Cemetery when it turned out the footage violated the rules against using the cemetery grounds in advertising.
And yet, for all its flaws and idiosyncrasies, the McCain team has clearly performed better than expected. Mr. McCain's 18-point drubbing of Mr. Bush in New Hampshire surprised even his supporters. He has since managed to close within a few points of Mr. Bush in South Carolina, where Mr. Bush seemed invulnerable just a few weeks ago.

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