New chief Steve Schmidt, right, a veteran of the Bush campaign, will focus on honing McCain's message. Republicans have complained the campaign lacked clear themes.
Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign has gone through its second shake-up in a year. Responding to Republican concern that his candidacy was faltering, McCain put a veteran of President Bush's 2004 campaign in charge of day-to-day operations, and stepped away from a plan to have the campaign run by 11 regional managers, McCain's aides said Wednesday.
The elevation of Steve Schmidt -- who worked closely with Karl Rove -- at McCain's headquarters represented a sharp diminishment of the responsibilities of Rick Davis, who has been McCain's campaign manager since the last shake-up nearly a year ago.
The move is the latest sign of increasing influence of veterans of Rove's shop in the McCain operation. Nicolle Wallace, who was communications director for Bush in the 2004 campaign (and in his White House) has joined the campaign as a senior adviser, and will travel with McCain every other week. Greg Jenkins, another veteran of Rove's operation who is a former Fox News producer and director of presidential advance in the Bush White House, was hired by Schmidt last week after a series of what McCain's advisers acknowledged were poorly executed campaign events.
Schmidt will be in charge of finding a more effective message in his race against Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, who leads in most public polls.
Schmidt said McCain faces a difficult challenge, given the overall mood of the country, but said he is encouraged by the fact that Obama and McCain remain in a relatively tight race.
The abrupt shift in leadership, announced to McCain's staff Wednesday morning, came after weeks of complaints from Republicans outside the campaign and growing concerns within it about the lack of a clear message and the cumbersome decision-making process. "There's not a cogent message," one Republican strategist who declined to be identified in order to offer a more candid assessment, said Wednesday. "They've been attacking Obama every day but it doesn't tie back to an overarching theme that McCain believes in."
The candidate, meanwhile, hailed the economic benefits of free trade to Colombians Wednesday, raising the possibility of an eventual hemispheric-wide agreement.
McCain also toured Colombia's largest port by speedboat to review the country's U.S.-backed drug interdiction programs, a day after he praised President Alvaro Uribe for Colombia's anti-drug efforts but pressed him to improve the government's record on human rights.
The Arizona senator got in several plugs for a proposed U.S.-Colombian Free Trade Agreement that Obama opposes. McCain suggested the tariffs imposed on American goods now exported to Colombia would disappear under the agreement -- creating jobs in the United States instead.
Continuing to press the themes of values, faith and patriotism, Obama exhorted Americans on Wednesday "to step into the strong currents of history" and volunteer for service to their country, pledging to dramatically expand opportunities for those accepting his challenge.
On a campaign swing that included visits to military bases, which he had previously largely steered clear of, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee sought to emphasize his own love of country.
"That's the bet our Founding Fathers were making all of those years -- that our individual destinies could be tied together in the common destiny of democracy, that government depends not just on the consent of the governed but on the service of citizens," he told a small audience at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. "Loving your country must mean accepting your responsibility to do your part to change it."
Throughout the week, Obama has been striving to win over voters in Republican areas, defending his patriotism in Independence, Mo., on Monday; pledging to expand federal assistance to religious social service groups in rural Ohio on Tuesday; and preaching service in central Colorado on Wednesday. He will speak about veterans in Fargo, N.D., today, then will celebrate July 4th in Butte, Mont., with his wife and two daughters.
NEW YORK TIMES, WASHINGTON POST