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John McCain's Inner Circle

Most politicians who have spent a long period of time on the national stage have a core group of advisers who have been with them through it all.

Over the last few months, we've detailed the Inner Circles of a handful of 2008 presidential candidates including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, (R) and former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.).

In that time, no candidate's Inner Circle has gone through as much transition as that of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Following a lackluster first fundraising quarter, McCain parted ways with finance director Carla Eudy and has also watched as former Straight Talk America executive director Craig Goldman and presidential political director Mike Dennehy have also left the campaign.

Others who were close to McCain in 2000 -- like media consultants Mike Murphy and Greg Stevens -- are not this time around. Murphy has purposely stayed out of the presidential race because McCain and Romney were both past clients; Stevens passed away last month after a battle with cancer.

Those departures mean that McCain's 2008 team looks quite a bit different than the group surrounding his upstart bid in 2000. Here's a look at who McCain' Inner Circle:

* Terry Nelson: The hiring of Nelson as campaign manager was perhaps the most obvious signal that McCain would model his organization after the President's 2004 campaign. Nelson, a native Iowan, was political director for Bush in 2004. Prior to that he served as deputy chief of staff at the Republican National Committee in 2002 and as political director of the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2000.

* John Weaver: Weaver is to McCain as Karl Rove is to George W. Bush. A longtime political hand from Texas, Weaver took McCain's defeat in 2000 hard -- leaving the Republican party to do work as a Democratic strategist for a brief time in the 2002 election (Weaver ceased all political activity for the better part of three years as he battled leukemia.) Weaver has since made peace with Rove and was integral in the recruitment of former members of Bush world during the early days of McCain's presidential bid.

* Mark Salter: No one knows John McCain the man better than Salter. Salter is more than McCain's longtime chief of staff -- he is also co-author of several of McCain's best known books including "Faith of Our Fathers" and "Character is Destiny" and is widely regarded as McCain's alter-ego.

* Brian Jones: Jones' rapid-rise through Republican politics has culminated with his role as communications director for McCain's presidential bid. Like Nelson, Jones has experience in the upper echelons of the Bush 2004 campaign as a senior communications adviser and served as communications director for the Republican National Committee in the 2006 cycle.

* Tom Loeffler: Loeffler, a Texan, and McCain served together in Congress during the 1980s and have remained close. In the recent shakeup following McCain's lackluster first fundraising quarter, Loeffler's role in the campaign has been elevated as he now oversees all of the cash-collecting operation. McCain needs a big second quarter and is relying on Loeffler to deliver it.

* Russ Schriefer: Schriefer is the lead media consultant for McCain 2008 -- overseeing a group of image makers in the same way that Mark McKinnon did for the Bush re-election. Schriefer, along with his business partner Stuart Stevens, were responsible for some of the most memorable ads of the 2004 presidential race including one that showed Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) windsurfing and another that featured Kerry insisting that he had actually voted for an $87 billion appropriation for the war in Iraq before he voted against it.

* Bill McInturff: McInturff is one of the holdovers from McCain's 2000 campaign. As he did in that race, McIntruff will serve as the lead pollster for McCain in 2008. McInturff is a founding partner of Public Opinion Strategies, one of the most highly regarded survey research firms on the Republican side.

* Steve Schmidt: Schmidt has had quite a run over the past few years. In 2004 he was a member of the innermost circle of advisers on the Bush re-election campaign. He went on to oversee strategy for the confirmation of Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito. In 2006 Schmidt managed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R-Calif.) re-election race -- taking the Governator from what looked like sure defeat to a relatively easy victory. Schmidt is still in California but has taken on a larger advisory role of late in the McCain camp.

* Mark McKinnon: McKinnon became a well-known political figure during the 2000 campaign when he oversaw the vast media campaign for Bush. In a previous life McKinnon had worked for a number of Democrats including Ann Richards (Texas) and Michael Dukakis (Mass.). McKinnon also served a stint as a songwriter with Kris Kristofferson (his official bio says he was "wildly unsuccessful" at it).

* Phil Gramm: Another Texan, Gramm served in the Senate from 1984 to 2002 and even made a presidential run of his own in 1996. Gramm is intimately involved in the day to day operations of the campaign and has the ear of McCain. He is also being relied on as a key member of McCain's policy team with a particular emphasis on the economy.

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 8, 2007; 1:55 PM ET
Categories:  Inner Circle  
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"For several weeks now I have been saying, IMO, That McCain is looking for a way to drop out of the 08 race to spare his family and friends the hurt that is surely coming should he continue. I realize he is unable to drop out now, and am unable to predict when he will, although he knows what is out there and will surely be used, should he try and continue."

Hm, I was saying more or less the same thing earlier in the year, but now I disagree. As time progresses, McCain's stick-to-it-iveness and gumption is starting to impress me. We should be anticipating the possibility that he is fully up for the calm, steady marathon pace that this crazy-early primary season forces upon all the candidates.

In the primary I plan to register Democrat and vote for Obama. But if the general election were held today I would vote for whichever candidate highest on this list were on the ticket:

D Obama
D Dodd
D Biden
R McCain
D Clinton
R Giuliani
D Richardson
D Edwards
R Romney

Posted by: Golgi | May 9, 2007 9:26 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Justin. Is this going to be another episode of Rupublicans rushing out and falling on their swords?

Guiliani can't win the nomination. Thompson has health and serious laziness problems. Who else can the GOP coalesce around but McCain?

Is it just possible that there is a deranged remnant of our party that salivates over the return of the louche Clinton years and tabloid politics writ tacky every day?

John McCain is the best possible future president hands down for the GOP. Our nation might even have a chance with him. Meanwhile tell him LOUDLY how you feel about illegal immigration. Boy, is he wrong on that issue.

Posted by: alianor | May 9, 2007 4:39 AM | Report abuse

Give McCain a break. Maybe if there were more troops in Iraq earlier like McCain has said all along we wouldn't be in such bad shape. McCain offers more than any other GOP hopeful. For some reason the brainwashed true believers won't give him a chance.
He is more conservative than any other major candidate. But for some reason the base would prefer Guliani (sp) or even a wanna be Republican like Romney to an actual Conservative.
If disagreeing on a few issues (ie: global warming, campaign finance) gets you out in the pasture than maybe i have also overstayed my welcome in the party. Big Tent? Its nice to see the party move closer to McCain in the global warming debate. He was on that issue well before it became popular.

Posted by: Justin | May 8, 2007 9:16 PM | Report abuse

It's clear that McCain has a heavy-hitting staff with lots of national connections. I'm thinking that that will do him a lot of good now that it looks like the entire primary season is going to take place in about a week.

The way things are stacked, the nomination will go to the guy who can field the biggest campaign organization. Momentum just isn't going to be a big factor this cycle.

Posted by: Anon | May 8, 2007 9:02 PM | Report abuse

IMO the the turning point or in the parlance of TV, when he jumped the shark, was when he went and gave that address at Jerry Falwell's university. It showed us that McCain was not quite as independent as we all thought. He could kow-tow to the best of them. At that point I lost respect for the guy, he was just another scuzzy politician scrabbling for votes from anyone. His stance on the Iraq war has not won him any friends either. It is one thing to be principled and quite another to be just plain stupid.

Posted by: Red Rat | May 8, 2007 7:06 PM | Report abuse

proudtobeGOP: No matter how many times you and others try, Hillary did not vote to go to war. I disagree with the vote that gave GW the option, and I cannot off the top of my head think of how many times this option has been give to The CinC, but I can in no way fault Hillary for her vote. There are no "Do-Overs" as she has stated time and again, and again, and again. The left are harping about this as much as the right, and, IMO, this is a lose, lose situation for Hillary should she give any other answer than she has already.

Posted by: lylepink | May 8, 2007 6:20 PM | Report abuse

ROZ m -McCain has Nicolle Wallace (former WH Communications Director) as an informal adviser; Melissa Shuffield is McCain's Senate spokeswoman. McCain also hired Jill Hazelbaker as his New Hampshire Communications Director.

Interesting total lack of fact-checking on your part.

Posted by: proudtobeGOP | May 8, 2007 5:42 PM | Report abuse

in mccain's inner circle: interesting total lack of women or any one with an overtly ethnic last name. are any of these insiders people of color, any color other than white?

Posted by: ROZ m | May 8, 2007 5:25 PM | Report abuse

hey richard: care to show us where the tax code talks about the Death Tax?

We'll be waiting.

Posted by: Loudoun Voter | May 8, 2007 5:06 PM | Report abuse

"although he knows what is out there and will surely be used, should he try and continue."

What is this lylepink? Idle threats from the Clinton campaign?

Your insider knowledge seem a little suspect, given the fact that you still can't agree with Hillary on her vote for the war.

John McCain learned about life and honor from his grandfather and father, both four-star admirals in the U.S. Navy. I seriously doubt that his family and friends would be "hurt" by any attacks from his liberal opponents given the adversity they have already overcome in life.

Posted by: proudtobeGOP | May 8, 2007 4:34 PM | Report abuse

the 'Death Tax' -- LOL. R's can't even speak english.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 8, 2007 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Does mean that the Death Tax debate will continue?

Posted by: Richard | May 8, 2007 4:32 PM | Report abuse

For several weeks now I have been saying, IMO, That McCain is looking for a way to drop out of the 08 race to spare his family and friends the hurt that is surely coming should he continue. I realize he is unable to drop out now, and am unable to predict when he will, although he knows what is out there and will surely be used, should he try and continue.

Posted by: lylepink | May 8, 2007 4:06 PM | Report abuse

excellent political coverage:

Posted by: William | May 8, 2007 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Republican circles is all CC knows, will. Public Opinion Strategies is a detestable group of swiftboaters, smear artists and guttersnipes. But that's what IS highly regarded by today's republicans. It's all they know how to do.

Posted by: drindl | May 8, 2007 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Public Opinion Strategies is one of the most highly regarded Republican Polling Firms? Really? A group that has been accused of push polling multiple times? A group that has yet to put one of their polls out in public that is honest instead of a campaign attack on a Democrat. That is what passes for highly regarded in Republican circles?

Posted by: will c | May 8, 2007 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Phil Gramm? Is McCain nuts? Gramm is as big a crook as ever worked in Washington. Also, you forgot to mention - who is McCain's bag man? You know, the one who does the SMEAR JOBS on opponents - you can't run a campaign anything like Bush without a really hard core bag man - just ask McCain?

Posted by: D.D. Heerman | May 8, 2007 2:54 PM | Report abuse

well my advice for john Mccain is, fire his staff and plead for dear life to get karl rove(if he isnt frogged marched out of the white house.)he's lagging behind in the polls and fundraising.

at best if he doesnt capture a few primary elections, the best he can hope for in a gop ticket is either a vp slot or sec/defense position.

but if iraq is still the number 1 issue when november 08 rolls around,he(or any other gop canidate thats pro war) is done.

Posted by: spartan | May 8, 2007 2:10 PM | Report abuse

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