July 11th, 2007
11:50 AM ET
10 years ago

Despite turmoil, McCain optimistic

McCain said Tuesday his bid for the White House is 'going well.'

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Sen. John McCain described his campaign for the White House as "going well" and vowed Tuesday to continue his bid for the GOP presidential nomination even as several of his senior staffers said they were leaving the campaign.

Campaign Manager Terry Nelson and Chief Strategist John Weaver announced earlier in the day they were resigning from their posts. Within a few hours, CNN confirmed that Deputy Campaign Manager Reed Galen and Political Director Rob Jesmer were also leaving the campaign.

McCain is already under fire from conservatives for his position on immigration as well as Independents for supporting the Iraq war. His bid for the White House took a hit last week when it reported only having $2 million in the bank after raising more than $11 million in the second quarter. Major campaign layoffs followed and the resignations Tuesday of several senior staffers further fueled speculation that McCain would drop out of the race.

But after delivering a speech on Iraq from the Senate floor, McCain sought to silence any suggestions that he was throwing in the towel.

"Of course," McCain responded to a reporter who asked if would continue to campaign for the presidency. "With the same people who were running it before. We were a collective team and I'm very grateful for their contributions that they will continue to make."

Rick Davis, another McCain political advisor, will take over as campaign manager. In a statement released by the campaign Tuesday, Davis echoed McCain's comments that the campaign was moving forward.

"This campaign has always been about John McCain and his vision for reducing federal spending, defending traditional values, and winning the war against Islamic extremists. Today we are moving forward with John's optimistic vision for our country's future."

But McCain, known for being a "straight talker" refused to discuss the departure of several members of his senior campaign team.

"These are very good and close friends of mine," McCain told the reporters. "I am grateful for their friendship, which will continue in the future as it has been in the past."

Nelson and Weaver, themselves, had been criticized for poorly managing the campaign's financial resources and both acknowledged last week that they miscalculated by thinking he would raise $100 million in 2007. But in the first six months of this year, McCain has raised a little more than $24 million.

It was not a surprise when Nelson and Weaver told reporters last week the campaign would undergo a major restructuring that included the layoffs and a new focus primarily on the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. It had been widely speculated that Nelson might eventually leave the campaign, but not Weaver - a long time aide and confidante to the Arizona senator.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close McCain ally, said that the campaigns infrastructure needed to be changed.

"Shaking up John's campaign is probably something that's smart, because we spent too much money with too little to show for it," said Graham, a South Carolina Republican. "And if you don't adjust in the politics of war you can pay the price."

But why Weaver, who has spent the past seven years preparing McCain for another presidential bid? When McCain returned from Iraq he met with Nelson and Weaver to look at the fundraising numbers and the staff reorganization. A campaign advisor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they could "not satisfy" McCain "that they had a good plan" and the Arizona senator was also angry over the amount of money the campaign was burning through. After conversations with McCain, both Nelson and Weaver walked away feeling they had lost the senator's confidence and their "Plan B approach wasn't satisfactory to him."

An official in the McCain campaign, who also spoke freely on the condition of anonymity, said the senator had decided Davis would take a bigger role in the campaign, which Nelson and Weaver opposed. So McCain told his aides "do what you want" but Davis is back in a lead role. Davis had been privately advocating a much different strategy for McCain. Nelson and Weaver resigned.

Another source involved in the McCain campaign's internal deliberations said the senator's wife, Cindy, and Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, both pushed for change after seeing the disappointing fundraising numbers

"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."

Perhaps even more shocking to Washington insiders is Mark Salter's decision to take a reduced, voluntary role in the campaign. Salter is McCain's long-time chief-of-staff who Salon.com once described as "The Voice of Sen. John McCain." Salter co-wrote several books for McCain including: "Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir."

Salter will retain his title as senior advisor to McCain assisting with communications strategy and speechwriting, but it will be in an unpaid capacity and no longer have day-to-day responsibilities.

While Davis, who was part of McCain’s 2000 bid for the White House, will take over as campaign manager a search is now underway to promote someone who is "politically savvy" enough to take on the details that were once handled by Nelson, said a campaign source.

"I think what you've got is people's strengths are coming out," said Graham. "John Weaver is a great tactician. Mark Salter is one of the best wordsmiths I've ever met. Rick Davis' skills are in the management area. It's getting the right people with the right skill base. There's nothing wrong with the people. I don't think they had the right skill sets."

The plan is now to continue to focus on Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Sources within the campaign said they are confident that the infrastructure they built in all of these states will withstand the campaign's current woes.

Still, one former McCain campaign aide surveyed Tuesday's fallout and said the departure of Weaver sends the signal that "everything done up until now was wrong."

And Stuart Rothenberg, a well respected non-partisan political analyst, said that McCain now has a difficult task of resuscitating his campaign.

"I think clearly McCain has fallen out of the top tier of the Republican race and it is unclear how long the campaign can survive," said Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. "I think it is very unclear whether they are going to have the resources to continue in all of the early states or rather hunker down in New Hampshire or Iowa and take a stand. This is a campaign that needs to turn around public psychology sometime over the next few months or they are not going to be able to raise any money and will be kicked to the curb by most people."

- CNN's Ted Barrett, Dana Bash, Candy Crowley, Sasha Johnson, Ed Henry, John King and Mark Preston contributed reporting for this story –

Filed under: John McCain
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Mike, HI

    Jesus, we get it, McCain is having trouble.

    Maybe we can get a bit more insight into the other candidates? Particularly the ones who aren't on such a hideous downslope.

    July 10, 2007 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  2. Will - Miami, Fl

    Confident that he has a chance? I'm confident that someon needs to "Baker Act" his squirrlyel butt. He's completely lost his mind.

    July 10, 2007 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  3. Pixie, Murfreesboro,TN

    I am fully confident as well....

    that your campaign is over.

    I kind of feel sorry for him though, he's like the Henry Clay of modern times.

    July 10, 2007 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  4. Mike, Corpus Christi Texas

    The support for the Iraq war, the non support for securing US national borders, have done McCain in. Guess he's living in a dream?!

    July 11, 2007 02:53 am at 2:53 am |
  5. cliff jones

    End of the line for the straight talk express.

    July 11, 2007 03:17 am at 3:17 am |
  6. Jeff Spangler, Arlington, VA

    The campaign for President is going about as well as the campaign for Iraq.

    July 11, 2007 06:57 am at 6:57 am |
  7. Richard Hitt, Slidell, LA

    How can Senator McCain expect to be sucessful in a presidential bid when he is as out of toon with the American public as the President?

    July 11, 2007 09:04 am at 9:04 am |
  8. Mrs. T.D. Gaines-Crockett

    I most assure you that Mr. RINO McCain has lost his mind – right along side his political career.

    July 11, 2007 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  9. Damon Linder, Los Angeles, CA

    I agree with McCain regarding Iraq. What I don't agree with is his position on immigration; that's what's killing his campaign.

    Question regarding Irag, and the GWOT: Since when has it become fashionable to mouth platitudes regarding commit-
    ment and sacrifice, then cut and run when things get hard? We now apparant-
    ly champion mediocrity and lack of com-

    July 11, 2007 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  10. tom, tucson AZ

    Do America a favor Senator and just drop out NOW, it would be the first smart decision you've made in a very long time.

    July 11, 2007 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  11. B. Fisher, Toluca Lake, CA

    It's unfortunate that the MSM loves to pile on McCain now. He's the only candidate of character in the race...and yes, he may not be in "toon" with the American public now, since they are being spoon-fed the anti-Bush propaganda 24/7. McCain is right though about Iraq. If we pull out now, as appears more likely given the cut-and-run fever that is spreading through the U.S., the Middle East will explode into several regional conflicts and genocide on a scale heretofore unseen.

    You may disagree back in 2003 about whether Iraq was central to the war on terror...but there is no dispute that is the main focus of al-Qaeda now.

    July 11, 2007 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  12. Greg, Austin TX

    I have been looking forward to this election because I always thought Senator McCain would do something spectacular with his campaign that would inspire future generations. He has always been a man of progress and principle. I figured that whether or not he actually won the presidency or the nomination, his approach would once again create waves that would restore some faith in government and would be shoulders to stand on. I hope that this shakeup will lead us in the right direction.

    July 11, 2007 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  13. Robert Worthington

    I do not see McCain's campaign being successful. I seriously doubt he has a chance at winning the Republican nomination due to the fact that his foreign policy is nearly identical to that of President Bush, and America does not want another Bush. America wants change. By the way, IMPEACH PRESIDENT BUSH!!!

    July 11, 2007 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  14. Theike, AZ

    McCain was done when he strongly supported the war. ANYBODY strongly supporting the war is done. If you support the war and want to run for president, you have to mask it to some level

    July 11, 2007 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  15. Ian, Eastham MA

    I used to like him, but now he just seems like another tool of the establishment. The “straight talk express” went straight down the toilet ever since he started making out with Bush.

    Ron Paul is the only republican candidate that has been (and still is) consistently principled. How? By using the Constitution as a guide to government, not special interests.

    >the Middle East will explode into several regional conflicts and genocide on a scale heretofore unseen.

    How is this our problem? Do you think people in the M.E. see us as saving them from themselves? Get past the neo-con propaganda and realize that we need to lead by example, not by force.

    July 11, 2007 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  16. Anonymous

    McCain has glued himself to Bush and is going right down with him. His support for the War has doomed his campaign. I thought he was more of an independent thinker. His loyalty to a lost cause will take him down. By-By!

    July 11, 2007 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  17. Richard, Austin, Texas

    Any man that cannot figure out that being completely out of step with the will and wishes of the vast majority of American voters will not get him elected needs to retire. What part of "we the people" does he not understand. Did he somehow interpret this to mean "I The Man". I cannot understand why a man of his past record could be so adamant about allowing 20 million lawbreakers gain citizenship and vastly increasing the number of foreign workers to lower wages of American workers in total disregard to the will and wishes of the vast majority of Americans. Although many Americans will agree, in part, with him that we cannot cut and run in Iraq we need some serious thinking on how to remove ourselves and get the Iraqis to assume full control of their own future.

    Should I respect him for standing up for what he believes? NO! He was not elected to force his views and wishes off onto the American people. He was elected to carry out the will of "We the people" Hopefully the next president we elect, as well as the senator who replaces him will be someone that fully believes he or she is there to serve the will of the people, not the will of big Business, Big Greed.

    July 11, 2007 10:40 pm at 10:40 pm |