Another major staff shake-up in the McCain campaign

Four months before Election Day, McCain hires his third campaign manager in a year.

Published July 2, 2008 5:58PM (EDT)

The perception in Republican circles is that John McCain's campaign has been slow to take advantage of various opportunities, lacks focus and has generally been unimpressive as the general election phase of the race has gotten under way over the past month.

Given the intraparty grumbling, it probably shouldn't come as too big a surprise that McCain has made another staffing change at the top, the second major shake-up in a year.

Steve Schmidt is taking over the day-to-day operation of John McCain's campaign, according to multiple campaign sources.

At a staff meeting in the campaign's Arlington, Va., headquarters this morning, campaign manager Rick Davis made the announcement about Schmidt's new role.

According to reports, Schmidt will now handle the responsibilities of a campaign manager -- coordinating the campaign's message and overseeing scheduling, policy matters, coalitions and campaign surrogates. Lobbyist Rick Davis, who had these responsibilities until Wednesday, will reportedly tackle "big-picture issues such as general strategy," which I thought was Charlie Black's job.

Apparently, there's some confusion about the chain of command, which in and of itself is symptomatic of a campaign that's not firing on all cylinders. Some say that Schmidt "assumed full operational control of the campaign," while other McCain aides insist that Davis is still in charge. It doesn't exactly sound like a smooth transition.

It's probably safe to say that the McCain campaign wants everyone to think this was a minor, subtle staffing change, and that there was no major shift at the top of the campaign structure. But given what we know, that appears to be a pretty weak spin -- when you take away the responsibilities of the campaign manager, give the job to someone else, and let the guy who was in charge tackle "big-picture issues," the practical result is that McCain just fired his campaign manager and picked a new one. That's what happens when the new guy takes "full operational control" of the campaign.

It's not especially unusual for presidential campaigns to switch managers to get on track, but it is odd for a leading-party nominee to have three different campaign managers in the course of one year, with the third being named just four months before Election Day.

In this sense, today's announcement will either quiet talk about McCain campaign disarray or reinforce it.

By Steve Benen

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