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See the latest RNC updates from NPR

McCain Aide Sees Expanded Role

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

That was NPR's Scott Horsley who joins me now. Scott, I understand there's been a change in the McCain campaign.

SCOTT HORSLEY: That's right, Michele. Campaign manager Rick Davis is going to be taking a step back from day-to-day operations. And one of McCain's top advisers, Steve Schmidt, will be playing a larger role in forming coalitions and managing the message from day-to-day.

NORRIS: So what does this all mean?

HORSLEY: Well, if it works the way the McCain campaign hopes, I think it - what it may mean is a sharpening of their message. You know, even though it's only July, we're already seeing the general election campaign shifting to high gear. And I think there's a sense that the McCain campaign has not been winning the daily message battle. Everyday, reporters covering the presidential race get a memo from the Obama campaign laying out their message of the day.

And McCain's message has been somewhat haphazard. One could say, for example, today, why is he in Colombia pitching free trade when so many Americans are skeptical of that? So the idea, I think, of giving Steve Schmidt more authority is to sharpen the message, and also perhaps to begin making up some of the ground in the field organization, which is an area where McCain trails far behind Barack Obama.

NORRIS: Whenever there's a shakeup in a campaign, there's always a question as to what led to the change. Is there a problem here that they were trying to solve?

HORSLEY: Well, of course, that's not one that the McCain campaign is admitting. They say this is just a natural evolution. But there's no secret, there's been some grumbling among Republicans with the way the campaign has been run especially because John McCain really had a four-month head start in the general election race. He locked up the nomination back in March when Obama was still battling it out with Hillary Clinton.

And there's a sense in some quarters that he didn't use that time productively either to define himself or to define his Democratic opponents. That said, John McCain is still relatively close behind Barack Obama in most of the national polls. Some show a bigger gap than others, but in most he's trailing by about five points. That's a lot better than the Republican brand as a whole, so McCain is outperforming other Republicans.

NORRIS: Now Rick Davis and Steve Schmidt both have long resumes. Can you tell us just a little bit of them?

HORSLEY: Rick Davis was John McCain's campaign manager in 2000. And in a sense, he's taking a step back to the role he had before that campaign downsized last summer. Steve Schmidt was a message man for George Bush's reelection campaign. Four years ago, he worked for Arnold Schwarzenegger here in California. He has been, until a couple of weeks ago, a regular figure with John McCain on the trail, and I guess he'll be doing the same job now, but from the headquarters there in Virginia.

NORRIS: Thank you so much, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Michele.

NORRIS: That was NPR's Scott Horsley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.