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Mccain Reloaded

Earlier this year, John McCain started prepping for his presidential run by hiring Terry Nelson as his national campaign manager. Nelson, recall, was deputy chief of staff for the Republican National Committee back in 2002-03, when the RNC was illegally jamming phone lines in New Hampshire to block Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts. (One of Nelson's immediate underlings, James Tobin, was eventually sent to jail over the whole thing.) Nelson also helped craft the infamous "Call me, Harold" ad in this year's Tennessee Senate race.

And now McCain has hired Jill Hazelbaker to be his communications director in New Hampshire. Hazelbaker got press for engaging in a bit of sock-puppetry while she worked for Thomas Kean's New Jersey Senate campaign earlier this year, commenting on liberal blogs under a variety of aliases--including "cleanupnj" and "usedtobeblue"--and attacking Kean's opponent, Senator Robert Menendez. When reporters started asking around, she called the allegations "nonsense"--even after the comments had been traced to her IP address. Oops.

There's no use pretending that childish tricks and ruthless operatives are something new and shocking in the world of campaigns. Mostly this is just another routine (and probably futile) plea for the press to stop pretending that McCain's presidential run is somehow going to be "above politics," or that he's "the last honest man" in Washington. Last week Robert Novak reported that McCain is currently being sold "to establishment Republicans as the establishment's candidate." Novak's not exactly the most, um, impartial McCain-watcher around, but this sounds a bit more accurate.

--Bradford Plumer