Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign has gone through its second shake-up in a year as McCain, responding to Republican concerns that his candidacy was faltering, put Steve Schmidt in charge of day-to-day operations and abandoned an effort to have the campaign run by 11 regional managers, the senator's aides said Wednesday.
Schmidt is a veteran of President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign and he worked closely with Karl Rove, who was Bush's political adviser. His installation at McCain's headquarters sharply diminished the responsibilities of Rick Davis, who has been McCain's campaign manager since the last shake-up nearly a year ago.
McCain's advisers said that Davis would continue to hold the position of campaign manager but that Schmidt had taken over every major operation where McCain has shown signs of struggling: communications, scheduling and basic political strategy.
The shift was approved by McCain after several aides, including Schmidt, warned him about 10 days ago that he was in danger of losing the presidential election unless he revamped his campaign operation, according to two officials close to the campaign.
Schmidt and Davis declined requests for comment.
McCain's campaign played down the significance of this latest change in the campaign operation.
“Voters don't care about the organizational chart of our campaign,” said Jill Hazelbaker, the campaign spokeswoman. “What they want to hear from John McCain is how he plans to bring about economic prosperity and secure the peace for future generations. Today's move is simply an expression of our understanding of the need to scale up for a general election campaign against Barack Obama.”
In the first public reflection of Schmidt's new role, the campaign is planning what will amount to a relaunch of McCain's candidacy after Friday, with the senator touring the country to promote a jobs program and visiting battleground states like Colorado, Wisconsin and Michigan to illustrate the economic problems he will be talking about.
By contrast, in moves that drew widespread derision by Republicans and delighted Democrats, McCain recently delivered a speech on energy policy before an audience of oil executives in Houston and came out in favor of offshore drilling in a speech in Santa Barbara, Calif.
In both cases, McCain's aides said, he ended up delivering those speeches in those locations because he was there fundraising.
As part of the shake-up, the McCain campaign is abandoning what had been a big innovation by Davis, in which the campaign would largely be directed by 11 regional campaign managers who have been given power over everything from where McCain would go to what advertisements he would run.
Schmidt has told associates that he feared that system was unworkable and would lead to gridlock in the campaign; instead, he is likely to install a political director in McCain's campaign headquarters.
Schmidt's elevation is the latest sign of increasing influence of veterans of Rove's campaign efforts in the McCain operation. Nicolle Wallace, who was communications director for Bush in the 2004 campaign and in his White House, has joined the campaign as a senior adviser, and will travel with McCain every other week.