McCain Campaign Hires 'Best Bricklayer'

History isn't on Rep. Katherine Harris's side when it comes to investing in her campaign.
History isn't on Rep. Katherine Harris's side when it comes to investing in her campaign. (Steve Nesius - AP)
By Chris Cillizza and Zachary A. Goldfarb
Sunday, March 19, 2006

In the behind-the-scenes hunt for 2008 campaign talent, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has bagged a big one.

Terry Nelson, who served as national political director for President Bush's reelection race in 2004, has signed on as a senior adviser to McCain's Straight Talk America political action committee.

"Senator McCain has demonstrated a real commitment to helping our candidates up and down the ballot and I am excited to be a part of his effort," Nelson says in a statement the PAC plans to release Monday.

Nelson's formal role for Straight Talk will be to maximize the organization's influence and effectiveness in the 2006 midterm elections, but his hiring also makes a major mark on the 2008 landscape.

McCain and his chief political strategist, John Weaver, have spent much of the past year courting key members of the Bush campaign team. Until now, the majority of that recruiting has focused on the men and women -- designated Pioneers, Rangers and Super Rangers -- who each helped collect hundreds of thousands of dollars for Bush in 2000 and again in 2004. (In that vein, Straight Talk America recently received $5,000 checks from former Texas governor Bill Clements, a Republican, and lobbyist extraordinaire Ed Rogers -- a close ally of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who recently removed himself from the 2008 field.) But the hiring of Nelson shows that McCain and Weaver are not neglecting the staff side of the presidential process.

Nelson, a native of Marshalltown, Iowa, managed Iowa Republican Rep. Jim Nussle's 1994 race and went on to serve as majority staff director of the Iowa state Senate caucus. Nelson served as political director of the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2000 and as deputy chief of staff at the Republican National Committee two years later. He is a partner in Dawson McCarthy Nelson, a GOP media firm, and the Crosslinks Strategy Group.

Of Nelson, McCain said: "Straight Talk is fortunate to have the strategic guidance of one of the country's most seasoned professionals."

A McCain adviser described Nelson as the "best bricklayer in the business" for his ability to build and implement a massive grass-roots political organization.

The splintering of the Bush campaign inner circle began earlier this year when Ed Gillespie, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, signed on as treasurer of Good Government for America, the political action committee of Sen. George Allen (R-Va.).

Withdrawals Don't Pay Off

When Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) announced last week that she would donate $10 million of her own money to her Senate campaign, boosters said it would jump-start a flagging candidacy and put her on the path to victory this fall.

History suggests this might be a tad optimistic.

In recent years, candidates who have tapped their personal bank accounts have tended to drop out of races or lose outright. In fact, in 2002 and 2004, only two of the 45 candidates for the House and Senate who spent more than $1 million of their own money on a race won, according to campaign finance records.

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