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McCain shakes up staff amid concern about 'unforced errors'

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Insiders say severe campaign structural problems caused series of missteps
  • Steve Schmidt to take over day-to-day operations in McCain campaign
  • The Bush campaign veteran will report to campaign manager Rick Davis
  • An aide says Schmidt's top priority will be to stop campaign 'errors'
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From Dana Bash
CNN Correspondent
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. John McCain's campaign announced a shakeup at the top Wednesday, in the wake of growing Republican concern about its ability to compete against Sen. Barack Obama.

Campaign manager Rick Davis said Tuesday that senior adviser Steve Schmidt would take over day-to-day operations of the campaign.

The Bush campaign veteran will report to Davis, but the rest of the campaign will report to Schmidt, who will be in charge of everything from messaging and communications to the political structure, organization and scheduling.

Davis will shift into what's being described as a more "natural role" for him -- the kind of duties he handled before last summer's mass firings in the McCain campaign. He will work on the vice presidential search and on planning matters such as the Republican National Convention.

Schmidt's top priority, according to a senior aide, will be to stop "unforced errors in the campaign."

Schmidt had been a regular on the road with McCain until recently, when he quietly returned to headquarters to help fix what insiders admit are severe structural problems that caused a series of missteps:

  • Hiring, then firing, lobbyists who worked for the military junta in Myanmar, then creating a strict anti-lobbyist policy that caused several lobbyists to be dismissed from the campaign.
  • Poor vetting that led to endorsements by controversial figures like ministers John Hagee and Rod Parsley, which McCain didn't reject until after months of bad press.
  • The campaign also paid for a TV ad to distance McCain from President Bush. The ad's script read, "John McCain stood up to the president and sounded the alarm on global warming ... five years ago." McCain later reversed his position and stood with Bush on the controversial idea of offshore oil drilling.
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    That, combined with an erratic schedule of speeches too late to make newscasts, and inconsistent themes against Obama, all have made for what senior McCain advisers admit has been a muddled message.

    Schmidt is also expected to shore up what some believe is a misguided political operation put in place by Davis -- a decentralized system of regional campaign managers who are not given clear instructions from the central campaign.

    After Davis announced Schmidt's new role, 11 regional directors were told via phone that they would report to Schmidt. Changes to the campaign structure were not discussed during the call, but CNN has been told that the structure will almost certainly be altered.

    Schmidt will be assisted by Mike McDonald, a fellow veteran of the Bush-Cheney and Arnold Schwarzenegger campaigns, who recently joined him on the McCain team.

    Mike DuHaime, Rudy Giuliani's former campaign manager and another longtime associate of Schmidt's, who has been working for both the McCain team and the Republican National Committee, will also be taking on more responsibility.

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    McCain advisers privately tell CNN that the moves are a direct result of missteps in messaging and scheduling that didn't give the candidate a good platform, and a political structure that many thought was misguided.

    The Wednesday shakeup comes on the first anniversary of what McCain aides call "Black Monday" -- when much of the campaign's staff was fired because it ran out of money and began collapsing.

    All About John McCainU.S. Presidential Election

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