McCain staffer leaves campaign, won't work against Obama

Mark McKinnon, who'd become a close advisor to John McCain, keeps his word about not campaigning against Barack Obama.

Published May 21, 2008 1:40AM (EDT)

Barack Obama hasn't technically won the Democratic nomination yet, but it's close enough for Mark McKinnon.

McKinnon, the Democrat-turned-Republican ad guru who worked for George Bush in 2000 and 2004, became one of John McCain's most loyal -- and most influential -- advisors over the last year. (Along with four other senior aides, McKinnon stuck with McCain last summer when the Arizona Senator's campaign seemed doomed.) But he'd said from the outset that he didn't want to work on a general election campaign against Obama. Now that Obama is getting closer to winning the primary battle against Hillary Clinton, McKinnon has told the McCain team he'll be leaving.

The Texan says he admires Obama and doesn't want to be involved in what could be a bruising fight against him. He still wants McCain to win, though he says he'll become a cheerleader rather than a player in the campaign. But, he told Salon Tuesday night, "Cheerleaders can still offer advice."

Even among the ragtag band that ran McCain's campaign last year, McKinnon was sort of a strange fit. He constantly wore an old-fashioned black cowboy hat that McCain's wife Cindy had decided was good luck. Other aides said they'd sometimes go days without hearing from him, only to have him check in by BlackBerry from Bali or some other exotic locale. But through most of the primary season, he worked for no profit, charging McCain only what it cost to produce the ads and Web videos he turned out.

McCain's ads will now be in the hands of a group of consultants that calls themselves Foxhole Productions, led by Mike Hudome, Fred Davis and Chris Mottola. McKinnon, meanwhile, will continue at Public Strategies Inc., the Washington and Texas-based firm where he works with former Bush communications boss Dan Bartlett. And yes, the firm does lobbying. Maybe McKinnon was a better fit with the McCain team than he seemed.

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama John Mccain R-ariz.