A top adviser to Republican presidential hopeful John McCain has ruled himself out from internal strategic discussions about rival Barack Obama and said he would remain true to a vow to step down from the campaign if the Illinois senator wins the Democratic nomination.
By Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington
Mark McKinnon, the chief media adviser to Mr McCain, said he would stand by a promise he made in 2007 not to wage a campaign against Mr Obama, whose election he previously said would “be great for the country”, if he became the Democratic nominee.
Although Mr McKinnon has been open about his refusal to campaign against Mr Obama once he became the nominee, the fact that he is already recusing himself from any discussion about the candidate represents a blow to Mr McCain.
Mr McKinnon, a top executive at Texas-based Public Strategies, a consulting and lobbying group owned by WPP of the UK, is considered to be one of the savviest Republican ad men around, having helped President George W. Bush in two successful runs for the White House.
“It’s what I pledged when I signed up and as awkward as it is, I feel compelled to keep my word,” Mr McKinnon said in an e-mail to the Financial Times. “I’ll still be number one fan and friend and show up occasionally and talk to the candidate (but not about Obama). But, I’ll be off the front lines and not making ads.”
While Washington insiders had speculated that Mr McKinnon would rescind his promise, the adviser appears to have been unswayed from his original impressions of Mr Obama, whom he once called “compelling”. “I disagree with him on some fundamental issues but would not want to be part of a campaign attacking him,” he told the Dallas Morning News in July.
The original promise was made at a time when Mr McCain’s campaign was in tatters and Mr Obama was just one in a crowded field of candidates.
The decision also underscores the challenge Mr McCain faces if he is pitted against Mr Obama ahead of November’s election. In spite of his Republican credentials, Mr McKinnon, a former Democrat, is just the kind of voter Mr Obama has said he could attract with his message of unity over partisan bickering. Mr McCain has also shown strength with independent and swing voters, who are attracted to the senator’s reputation as a maverick legislator.
Unlike Mark Penn, another executive in the WPP family of companies who was forced to step down as chief strategist for Hillary Clinton’s campaign earlier this month, Mr McKinnon has served the McCain campaign on a voluntary basis. He has also agreed to take a pay cut from Public Strategies.