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Mccain's Unsung Hero

Today's NYT has a good tick-tock on how McCain went from politically dead to frontrunner. But the story leaves out one important part: John Weaver. That's certainly understandable. After all, the nadir of McCain's campaign came last July, when Weaver--his chief strategist--lost an internal power struggle and resigned. And Weaver hasn't been with the campaign since (although I understand from sources that he continues to offer his advice to McCain through various back channels).

But just because Weaver wasn't around as a firsthand witness to McCain's Lazarus act doesn't mean he didn't have a hand in it. Indeed, it was the groundwork Weaver laid for McCain before his resignation that played a crucial role in McCain's comeback.

Consider McCain's win in Florida--which was the first time he won a closed primary and was the victory that set him on a clear path to the nomination. That win doesn't happen without the endorsement of Florida Governor Charlie Crist. And McCain doesn't get Crist's endorsement without Weaver. It was Weaver who advised McCain to wade into the Florida Republican gubernatorial primary in 2006 and endorse Crist--a bold move (McCain was the only national Republican who made it) that paid off two years down the road.

That's the most obvious example of Weaver's early work paying later dividends for McCain, but there are others--from Schwarzenegger's endorsement in California (Weaver had McCain campaign for the Governator in 2006 and brought a bunch of former Schwarzenegger aides onto the McCain campaign) to the organizations that Weaver spent the last few years building in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Even the McCain campaign's early profligate spending--which precipitated the crisis that led to Weaver's departure--wasn't necessarily pissed away. As one source with knowledge of the McCain campaign put it to me: "Part of the reason why the campaign was able to be successful is that there was 30 million dollars invested there. It's easy to dismiss it after the fact and say that it was wasted, but there was a lot of money invested there, and it didn't wither on the vine--it paid off."

One thing to keep an eye on now is whether Weaver will rejoin McCain should McCain get the nomination. Although there's no love lost between Weaver and McCain campaign manager Rick Davis--whose assumption of that post led to Weaver's July departure--people in McCain Land say Weaver's return is a possibility. "Weaver knows the Republican Party very, very well," says the source. "And I think that McCain recognizes that he needs the help of everybody to beat Hillary or Obama. I don't think McCain is going to let any lingering bitterness between other parties get in the way."

--Jason Zengerle