Staff Changes Show Different McCain Campaign

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Aug 09, 2007 9:44 AM

It's unclear if John McCain’s campaign for president may yet rebound and blossom once again into a national juggernaut (stranger things have happened). But for now, it remains a very changed operation from the one I saw when I traveled to New Hampshire earlier this year; one with a far less aggressive national message machine.

Last month’s staff shake-ups at McCain HQ were necessary and the downsizing of the campaign from a national effort to a three-state operation was probably the only option left on the table for the campaign’s survival. But along with these changes came the departure of a communications team that was second-to-none.

Matt David, who served as Deputy Communications Director and who headed up the rapid response operation, for example, was relentless and professional when it came to defending his boss, especially when he was under attack from absurd charges such as those lobbed by John Kerry that McCain hounded Kerry to be his V.P. nominee, an assertion disproved by contemporaneous news reports and post-election exposes alike.

David, along with McCain’s blog outreach guy Patrick Hynes, quickly killed the story before it ever blew up into a national scandal. [# More #]

In The Way to Win Mark Halperin and John Harris explore the evolution of Republican communications operatives from the young kids of campaigns past who were still wet behind the ears and assigned to clipping the morning papers to professionals with the necessary research and messaging skills and, more importantly, the press contacts to push the research and drive the message. Matt David represents the former, the product of that evolution.

Is he missed from the McCain campaign? My sources say yes. It’s not that the new team is incapable or unprofessional. On the contrary, the new press shop, headed by Jill Hazlebaker is very talented. It’s just that the scope of the communications effort has changed radically. Just yesterday, for example, Rudy Giuliani flip-flopped on McCain-Feingold, which he once endorsed enthusiastically.

Under the previous regime, Matt David would have instantly shot out a full research package demonstrating the severity of Rudy’s position change on background to provide context to the journalists covering the story. But no such pushback came from the McCain camp yesterday. Instead, my sources in the campaign say that the new communications team is lining up one-on-ones with local journalists in preparation for McCain’s New Hampshire visit at the end of this week.

Neither approach is right or wrong. They just represent the drastic alteration in the size, scope and function of the McCain campaign’s communications effort.

Considering I am a national blogger for the Web’s largest right-of-center readership, I certainly have my biases in favor of the national, hyperactive approach, of course. But I can’t help but think that the new approach is more in fitting with the reality of the McCain campaign at this time.

But as I stressed from the outset, things have a way of changing.