California's Governor Pads His Squad

By Chris Cillizza
Wednesday, January 25, 2006

As he faces a tough reelection battle, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is adding people to his political entourage. So far, at least, he's not doing any subtracting. This could lead to a big team -- not always a formula for nimble politics.

Steve Schmidt, who will leave his position as a senior adviser to Vice President Cheney at the conclusion of Samuel Alito's confirmation battle, will be the campaign manager with broad mandate over spending and strategic decisions, according to a source familiar with the arrangement.

Matthew Dowd, a senior Bush campaign strategist, will play a similar role in Schwarzenegger's reelection bid -- handling long-term positioning and message.

Still on board -- though in a somewhat ambiguous role -- is Republican media consultant Mike Murphy, the man who guided Schwarzenegger to a victory in the 2003 recall campaign and, less successfully, directed the media campaign for a handful on ballot initiatives backed by the governor last fall. Murphy will remain in the Schwarzenegger universe, though after March this will be only in a volunteer role.

Murphy and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) -- a potential 2008 presidential candidate -- also parted ways recently as the governor severed his contract with his media consultant. Murphy has strong ties to both Romney and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) but has said that if both men were to run for president he would stay on the sidelines. For now, Murphy says he is mostly stepping away from politics, working on such ventures as developing a show for cable TV's Comedy Central.

While all sides on the new Schwarzenegger team proclaim themselves happy with the arrangement, several party operatives wonder whether Murphy -- known for his flamboyant personality -- can peacefully coexist with the new Bush arrivals.

Burns Defends His Reputation

After months of being pummeled by Democrats and the media over his ties to fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) is fighting back with a new television ad. "I'm not going to stand here and let the Democratic Party of Montana play politics with my reputation," says Burns, looking into the camera. "I've worked in and around stockyards all my life . . . those attack ads are just a big bunch of you know what."

As for Abramoff and his influence peddling schemes, Burns says in the ad that the lobbyist lied to "anybody and everybody," adding: "I don't know who Abramoff influenced, but he never influenced me."

Burns was one of the leading beneficiaries of cash contributions from Abramoff and his tribal clients, but the three-term senator has repeatedly insisted he did nothing untoward in exchange for these dollars. Democrats have already run two ads in the state seeking to tie Abramoff to Burns, commercials that Burns alleges were paid for by groups that also took money from Abramoff clients.

An independent survey released on Christmas Day showed the Republican incumbent's leads over state Auditor John Morrison (D) and state Sen. Jon Tester (D) had shrunk considerably over the last few months. It also found that nearly six in 10 voters said they were "very" or "somewhat" concerned about Burns's relationship with Abramoff.

Apology? What Apology?

Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid apologized last week for a news release that he said went too far in lambasting Republicans for shoddy ethics. But a speech yesterday at the liberal Center for American Progress makes plain that he is not backing off the issue.

The Associated Press reported that Reid said Bush should "come clean" in next week's State of the Union speech and admit "the costs of Republican corruption."

"In his 2000 campaign, George Bush promised to bring 'dignity' to the White House, but we've since found that he brought Jack Abramoff instead," Reid said. "President Bush needs to quit stonewalling about his White House's connection to corruption and finally tell us how he's going to reform Washington."

White House press secretary Scott McClellan accused Reid of "partisan attacks" that "only lower the discourse in this town."

Cillizza is a staff writer with The Fix, his online politics column, appears daily at

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