WASHINGTON (Time) – What if the McCain campaign had run ads using footage of Barack Obama dancing with Ellen DeGeneres to show his coziness with celebrity? Or followed up on its Paris Hilton ad with others featuring Donald Trump and Jessica Simpson? All of that was on the drawing board of Fred Davis III, the advertising whiz that John McCain's used for almost all of his campaign media, and one of the most talented conservative political operatives in America. Oh yes, he also had an internet ad up his sleeve that would attack Obama's celebrity by associating him with Oprah. But in the end, he scotched that one. "We decided you don't really fight Santa Claus or Oprah, so we removed her."
In an extended interview with TIME, Davis detailed what-might-have-been in the campaign ad war — and what self-censorship the McCain staff imposed on itself regarding the issue of race. For most of the campaign, Davis functioned as McCain's silent partner. While journalists hounded McCain's senior campaign aides, people like Steve Schmidt, Mark Salter and Rick Davis (no relation), Fred Davis worked away in the shadows.