Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sen. John McCain today accepted the resignations of two top members of his presidential-campaign staff, the latest blow to his reeling 2008 White House bid.

Campaign manager Terry Nelson along with close friend and dedicated campaign strategist John Weaver have left the McCain team, leaving Rick Davis, a loser in the long-running internal battles until now, as the top dog in the Arizona Republican’s campaign.

The Arizona Republican was a key pusher of the campaign-finance regulations of 2002, backed President Bush on the immigration bill widely derided as amnesty for illegal aliens, and has championed the Iraq war.

Those positions have cost Mr. McCain dearly among independents and former McCain Republicans, as measured both in disappointing money-raising totals and in support in the polls nationally and in the important early primary states.

Chief of staff Mark Salter, a longtime close McCain friend, will stay but in a lesser role and without pay, Republicans close to the campaign told The Washington Times today.

The wheels already had come off Mr. McCain’s cash-strapped presidential nomination campaign July 2, when Mr. Nelson called a staff meeting to tell most of the campaign’s employees they were being let go, with two weeks pay provided the money could be found. Mr. Nelson announced then that he would stay as manager but would draw no pay.

A staffer still with the campaign today confided that an “extremely irate” Mr. McCain “sat down with” Mr. Nelson yesterday and put the blame on Mr. Nelson, who had worked on Mr. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, for letting the campaign spend $14 million while raising only $10.5 million.

Republicans associated with Mr. McCain say it is not clear why Mr. Weaver was shown the door, with conflicting explanations circulating. But those who know both men say Mr. Weaver and Mr. Davis have never gotten on well together.

Although temporarily demoted earlier this month, Mr. Davis had remained in the good graces of both Mr. McCain and his wife, Cindy, a Republican close to the campaign said.

Mr. Weaver ran the McCain 2000 presidential nomination run that pulled a surprise upset of Mr. Bush in New Hampshire that year and won in Michigan but ultimately lost the nomination to Mr. Bush.

Mr. McCain has all but folded his organization in Michigan and has pulled out of next month’s Iowa straw poll, effectively killing his chances for a strong showing in that state’s first in the nation presidential caucuses in January, analysts said.

Last week, Mr. McCain let go all his paid Michigan staffers except for his young state director, John Yob. The McCain operation in Florida went the same way, with only the McCain state finance director remaining as paid staff.

Holes left by today’s departures will be filled by some names associated with Mr. McCain in the past. Carla Udy, fired earlier this year as the McCain top fundraiser, will rejoin the campaign, a campaign insider confided to The Times.

“Veterans of the McCain 2000 race who now are on sidelines will be coming back,” the same insider said.

Charles Black, who has advised every Republican presidential campaign since Ronald Reagan’s first run, is expected to play a larger role in the McCain campaign now that the strategy-and political-team leaders are gone.

The blame contest over a campaign on the skids already has begun.

“The candidate was never really happy with the reorganization plan that Weaver and Nelson put together after the extent of cash crunch was realized a month ago and when the staff layoffs were announced earlier this month,” said another campaign insider on condition of anonymity. “Rick and Terry felt that unhappiness with them and decided to submit their resignations. McCain didn’t fire them.”

But most analysts say Mr. Nelson was used to working for candidates who enjoyed the aura of inevitability and therefore attracted plenty of hard-money donations and was used to spending accordingly.

Mr. McCain, thanks in part to his positions that disappointed independents and social-conservative and libertarian-minded Republicans, lost that aura.

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