WASHINGTON John McCain put a top adviser in control of day-to-day campaign operations Wednesday after weeks of private concerns among Republicans that the GOP presidential campaign had not made the transition for the general election.
Steve Schmidt, a veteran of President Bush's re-election and a member of the Arizona senator's inner circle, will oversee daily political, strategy, coalitions, scheduling and communications efforts from the campaign's northern Virginia headquarters.
The campaign's estimated 300-person staff will report to Schmidt, who will report to campaign manager Rick Davis.
Davis will continue to focus on long-term planning, the vice presidential search, fundraising and the national convention but Schmidt's added responsibilities mean the campaign manager's load now will be somewhat lighter. Davis took the reins of the campaign almost exactly a year ago amid a major staff shake-up and has been the subject of Democratic criticism for his past lobbying work.
He told the staff of Schmidt's expanded role at a Wednesday meeting at headquarters, saying that Schmidt would have "full operational control" of the campaign's daily activities.
"This is a natural growth of the campaign and we think it's a good thing," said spokesman Brian Rogers.
Other changes and additions are expected.
Republican officials with knowledge of the plans said Schmidt likely will shift the political operations into a more traditional structure, including the hiring of a single political director and a single field director who will have authority over those divisions. The campaign has been criticized for its nontraditional, decentralized structure that broke the country into 11 regions with a campaign manager for each.
Charlie Black, a senior adviser, characterized Schmidt's larger role as a typical expansion for a growing campaign.
"The deeper you get into a presidential campaign, the more tasks there are to do and the more work there is to do," Black said. "Rick asked Steve to take on more responsibility, and he did and everybody's happy."
Since McCain wrapped up the nomination in March, Republican insiders have expressed concerns privately that the stripped-down campaign of the primary season was not adequately transformed into a general election operation able to take on Democratic Sen. Barack Obama.
Even though he clinched his party's nomination three months before the Democrat did, McCain lags Obama in fundraising, organizational structure, and polls. Critics have panned his sub-par speeches, said he lacks a cohesive message and questioned his travel itinerary. For example, he is in Colombia and Mexico this week while Obama is spending the Independence Day week traveling to battleground states and traditional Republican strongholds talking about patriotism, faith and values.
In recent weeks, the campaign has brought on other former Bush aides to bolster its efforts. Former White House communications director Nicolle Wallace and former Bush re-election staffer Matt McDonald are helping coordinate message while former White House advance director Greg Jenkins is helping coordinate events.
Schmidt was involved in McCain's presidential campaign from the start, but took on a more prominent role after the campaign nearly imploded one year ago after fundraising troubles and the staff shake-up.
He was a near constant presence on the campaign trail during McCain's comeback, which resulted in his winning enough delegates to capture the GOP nomination. In recent weeks, Schmidt worked out of headquarters as he assumed additional duties.
Schmidt, 38, presided over California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's successful re-election bid two years ago, a campaign in which the governor moved steadily to the political middle after governing as a conservative. Schmidt helped him overcome a deficit in the polls.
He also was a top aide in Bush's re-election campaign in 2004 and worked for Vice President Dick Cheney in the White House. He ran the confirmation of Justice Samuel Alito, and played a leading role in the confirmation of Chief Justice John Roberts.
The Democratic Party issued a statement saying: "It's no surprise that John McCain would put a Bush-Cheney veteran in charge of his campaign since he's been promising a third Bush term and relying on money raised by President Bush and his friends."