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McCain's top political strategists forced out

  • Story Highlights
  • Campaign announces Rick Davis will now head McCain campaign
  • McCain says no one was fired, departed staffers remain "loyal friends"
  • Sen. John McCain's campaign manager and top strategist leave campaign
  • Source says McCain's wife, Cindy, and Trent Lott pushed for change
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. John McCain's top political strategists stepped down Tuesday from their posts with the Arizona Republican's presidential campaign that has come under fire for poor management and lackluster fundraising.

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Sen. John McCain is lagging in fundraising for his presidential campaign.

Campaign manager Terry Nelson and chief strategist John Weaver announced their departures in joint statements released by the campaign.

Several sources tell CNN that McCain met with Nelson and Weaver on Monday to discuss the campaign's direction.

"Apparently [McCain] didn't like the answers and [said] this morning he wanted changes," according to a source familiar with the internal deliberations.

Also Tuesday, Deputy Campaign Manager Reed Galen and Political Director Rob Jesmer resigned from the campaign, a campaign source told CNN.

"No one was fired and they remain good and close and loyal friends and they'll continue to help out in the campaign," McCain told reporters.

Asked whether the exodus is a sign that his campaign is weakening, he said, "People can make their own assessments. I think we're doing fine. The campaign is going well."

Rick Davis, another McCain political adviser who served as McCain's campaign manager in 2000, will take over in a lead role for the campaign, the campaign announced.

Another longtime aide, Mark Salter, will retain his title as senior adviser to McCain assisting with communications strategy and speech writing but it will be in an unpaid capacity, a campaign source tells CNN.

The source said that Salter's decision to work for free was made last week. But it is unclear what role Salter, who was McCain's chief of staff in the Senate and co-wrote several of his books, will have in the day-to-day operations of the campaign.

McCain's presidential campaign released a three-paragraph statement from Weaver and Nelson in the late morning just as McCain took the Senate floor to speak about the situation in Iraq. Video Watch what this says for McCain's campaign »

"This morning I informed Senator McCain that I would be resigning from his presidential campaign, effective immediately," Nelson said in the statement. "It has been a tremendous honor to serve Senator McCain and work on his campaign. I believe John McCain is the most experienced and prepared candidate to represent the Republican Party and defeat the Democratic nominee next year."

"As of today, I have resigned my position as chief strategist to John McCain's presidential campaign," Weaver said in his statement.

"It has been my honor and a distinct privilege to serve someone who has always put our country first. I believe that most Americans will come to the conclusion that I have long known there is only one person equipped to serve as our nation's chief executive and deal with the challenges we face, and that person is John McCain."

A short time later, McCain released his own statement about Weaver and Nelson.

"Today, John Weaver and Terry Nelson offered their resignations from my presidential campaign, which I accepted with regret and deep gratitude for their dedication, hard work and friendship," McCain stated.

"Terry is a consummate professional, who has ably led this campaign through a challenging political environment. John Weaver has been my friend and trusted counselor for many years and to whom I am greatly indebted. In the days and weeks ahead this campaign will move forward, and I will continue to address the issues of greatest concern to the American people, laying out my vision for a secure and prosperous America."

Just one week ago, Nelson and Weaver reported that McCain only had $2 million in the bank after raising $11.2 million in the second quarter. The two men acknowledged that they had built a campaign around the idea McCain would raise $100 million in 2007 in his bid for the GOP presidential nomination -- a goal they would not be able to meet.

Instead, Nelson and Weaver revealed that the campaign would undergo a major restructuring including layoffs and a new focus primarily on the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Nelson noted he was forgoing a salary.

That was not enough, though, for some advisers in McCain's inner circle. A source involved in the internal deliberations said McCain's wife, Cindy, and Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, both pushed for change.

"Cindy is the main catalyst for change," said the source, who added that Lott "has John's ear and says he has to find a way to shake things up and get a fresh look."

In addition, another source in the McCain campaign said that his fundraisers were frustrated with the direction of the campaign as well.

"Money people are clearly not happy and have been talking to people about changes," the source said.

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Still, another McCain confidant expressed confidence that McCain would be able to overcome the controversy that now besets his presidential aspirations.

"We believe John can come back from the doldrums ... but big changes [were] needed," said the confidant, who added there is a "practical need and symbolic of a leaner, focused, different campaign." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's John King, Candy Crowley, Mark Preston, Ed Henry, Ted Barrett and Dana Bash contributed to this report

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