Big Shakeup in the McCain Camp

Posted on July 2, 2008

John McCain's campaign has been dogged by reports of disorganization and lackluster fundraising. McCain is now taking steps to right what some see as a faltering campaign. He's promoted Steve Schmidt, who will now be in charge of the overall operation.
Schmidt, who ran California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's reelection campaign and was a top communications aide in President Bush's re-election effort four years ago, is taking over day-to-day operations from campaign manager Rick Davis. Schmidt will shape the campaign's message, run its political operation and oversee most every facet of the organization, including the candidate's schedule, policy statements, deployment of surrogates and coalitions.

"He'll be the maestro who conducts the symphony," said McCain adviser Charlie Black. A McCain insider said the change gives Schmidt "near total control of the campaign." The shift was announced Wednesday morning at a staff meeting in the campaign�s headquarters in Arlington, Va., with Davis making the announcement that he would focus on long-range issues such as the Republican convention, selection of a vice-president and debates.

Schmidt, who had just recently returned full-time to the headquarters after spending most of his time with McCain on the road or with his family in California, responded by exhorting campaign aides with a speech that one staffer likened to a locker room pep talk out of the football movie, "Rudy." He also, according to another McCain official in the room, made a joke about the move being made official on the anniversary of the McCain's last shake-up.

McCain will be elected president, Schmidt said, intoning the declaration by election night television news anchors 135 days from now, if campaign aides execute. It's a word that his friends and fellow political operatives frequently turn to in describing the forward-leaning, 37-year-old New Jersey native. "The one thing that Steve prides himself on is very good execution," said Terry Nelson, McCain's campaign manager until last summer's shake-up and a friend and colleague of Schmidt's for over a decade. "He has a sense of how to hold people accountable so they�ll perform for him."
McCain needs all the help he can get. The Obama campaign was hardened in battle because of the long Democratic primary. Obama has a great ground game. This is a good move for McCain. But questions linger. Can McCain sway those Bush donors who have been withholding their checkbooks? And can he hone his campaign message to something that really resonates with voters?