McCain Campaign Is Dealt
New Blow as Media Team Resigns
By JACKIE CALMES
The Wall Street Journal
July 26, 2007; Page A4
WASHINGTON -- Sen. John McCain's media team has resigned, an indication that a campaign shake-up two weeks ago is continuing to backfire and further imperil the Arizona Republican's presidential candidacy.
Political ad-makers Russ Schriefer and Stuart Stevens, veterans of President Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns, on Monday emailed the new campaign manager -- lobbyist and longtime McCain adviser Rick Davis -- to say that they were quitting. The two men told friends they had considered leaving for days, as they hadn't been paid and the campaign's financial straits raised questions of when and how much they would be.
Their resignations followed a story in The Wall Street Journal Monday about Mr. Davis's business and lobbying activities. Current and former McCain campaign advisers say those activities -- which involved a business he started and another launched by an acquaintance of his -- amounted to profiteering at the campaign's expense and risked embarrassing the senator.
Since Mr. McCain accepted the resignations of former campaign manager Terry Nelson and chief strategist John Weaver two weeks ago, and put Mr. Davis in charge, more than a dozen senior staffers have left from the headquarters in northern Virginia as well as state offices in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina -- all states with early nominating contests. Several fund-raisers have cut their ties to the campaign, which reported a debt at the end of the second quarter.
Now the loss of the Schriefer-Stevens media team is considered a new blow, Republican strategists say. The McCain campaign had long planned to begin running ads this fall in early contest states; those plans are at risk given Mr. McCain's debt, compounded now by the difficulty of getting donors to invest in a troubled campaign.
Mr. Schriefer, in an email, referred any questions to the campaign. "We never discuss any internal campaign matters," Mr. Schriefer wrote. "We admire the Senator and wish him well."
"I can confirm that they have amicably left the campaign," Mark Salter, Mr. McCain's closest longtime adviser, wrote in an email from New Hampshire, where he was traveling with the senator for town-hall events that still are drawing hundreds of people. Mr. Salter said he was speaking in behalf of the campaign and Mr. Davis.
The unraveling of the McCain team this month climaxes months of infighting between other McCain advisers and Mr. Davis. That came against a backdrop of a slide in the polls as Sen. McCain became identified with two unpopular issues, the Iraq war and immigration overhauls. Mr. Davis privately complained to Republicans outside the campaign about the Nelson-Weaver team's strategic leadership, while within the campaign his own actions were a source of building tension.
In particular, last year Mr. Davis and lobbying partner Paul Manafort had started and co-owned an Internet services firm, 3eDC, which billed the campaign more than $1 million. Mr. Davis also arranged for the campaign to give its property-management business to a second new company started by a lobbyist-friend's client, Indian-casino developer Richard Fields. That move came despite the fact that Mr. McCain had become known as the Senate's biggest critic of scandals involving Indian casinos. The campaign has ended both companies' deals, though it still owes them money.
The other advisers also objected that Mr. Davis and his firm lobbied for a Kremlin-backed Ukrainian Party that is opposed by the U.S. government and Mr. McCain.
As these issues festered, Mr. McCain twice agreed to sideline Mr. Davis as CEO, last December and in April. But Mr. Davis continued to advise the senator informally, and was a frequent traveling companion and confidant of the senator's wife, Cindy. McCain supporters privately attribute Mr. Davis's reemergence at the head of the campaign to her influence.
Write to Jackie Calmes at email@example.com