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What Does The Shake-up In Mccain Land Mean?

Politico's Jonathan Martin reports on a shake-up in the McCain campaign, with Rick Davis ceding day-to-day control of the campaign to Steve Schmidt:

Davis will focus more on big-picture issues such as general strategy, helping to plan the convention, picking a vice president and tending to the needs of major donors.

As for Schmidt.

"He'll be the maestro who conducts the symphony," Black said of Schmidt's position in driving McCain's message.

Yet McCain sources say Schmidt's imprint will be felt beyond a campaign message that, until recently, had not been clearly defined.

A handful of his fellow Bushworld veterans are also taking on more high-profile roles. 


Further, there is likely to be more structure brought to a political operation that has largely been delegated to the Regional Campaign Managers. The campaign currently has no political or field director.

It sounds like the official line coming from the McCain campaign is that Davis is still in charge and Schmidt will be reporting to him, but it's hard not to interpret this move as a blow to Davis, whose ambitions of moving from fundraiser to strategist appear to have now come crashing down. The "Regional Campaign Manager" idea that's about to be reworked, after all, was Davis's; and his new responsibility of planning the convention is one he's had before, back in 1996 for Bob Dole, when he was still known as a fundraiser. As for his "tending to the needs of major donors," that's presumably exactly what Davis doesn't want to do anymore. "Rick's like every finance guy, whose dream is not to have to stand by an ice sculpture raising money," one McCain adviser memorably told me for this piece. "He wants to be a political guy." Davis's days as a political guy appear to be over.

Schmidt, meanwhile, is the last major remaining link to version 1.0 of the McCain '08 campaign, as he was brought on board by the since-departed Terry Nelson (who worked with Schmidt on Bush '04) and John Weaver. Indeed, the news that Schmidt will be bumping up a number of his fellow Bushworld veterans is ironic, when you consider that Nelson and Weaver were ultimately thrown overboard partly because some McCain people thought they were making the McCain campaign too much like Bush's. It now looks like McCain will be returning to the Bush model.

As for other ramifications of this move, it's hard to see how or why McCain would bring back Mike Murphy--as has been rumored for a little while now--since Schmidt's now playing the role McCain would have presumably wanted Murphy to fill. And, as for Weaver, the other McCainiac supposedly waiting offstage, when I reached him after the announcement of the move, he told me there was no way he'd be going back. 

I asked Weaver what he thought of the move in general, and while he didn't exactly say I told you so, he didn't sound terribly surprised either. "At the end of the day, this is a required action," he said. "They couldn't continue to go on without a field organization and without the basic architecture of a traditional campaign. . . . There's a requirement for basic competence, and that's what this change says."

--Jason Zengerle