GOP builds up its team

STEVE SCHMIDT is taking over the day-to-day operation of John McCain’s campaign, according to campaign sources.

Schmidt, a bald and barrel-chested operative known for his aggressive brand of political combat, responded by exhorting campaign aides with a speech that one staffer likened to a locker room pep talk.

McCain sources say Schmidt, who ran Arnold Schwarzenegger’s re-election campaign and was a top aide in Bush-Cheney 2004, will co-ordinate the campaign’s daily pro-McCain and anti-Obama message but also will have an increased role in shaping almost every facet of the organisation including scheduling, policy, coalitions and surrogates.

Schmidt has been serving as a senior McCain adviser for months and had recently returned to headquarters to help bolster the Republican nominee’s operation.

The move comes a year to the day after McCain laid off dozens of staffers as part of a cost-cutting measure that would ultimately spur a huge overhaul of his campaign. McCain sources say Schmidt’s imprint will be felt beyond a campaign message that, until recently, had not been clearly defined.

Meanwhile, one of John McCain’s Republican colleagues says he saw him grab an associate of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and lift him out of his chair during a diplomatic mission in 1987. The senator said he saw McCain, who has a reputation for being hot tempered, rough up an Ortega associate during a trip led by former Senator Bob Dole.

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