The McCain Campaign Seeks a Mulligan

After the mass firings, anemic poll results, poor fund-raising totals, large expenditures, and now, on July 10, the resignations of two of his top aides, one might expect John McCain’s supporters to be in a state of panic.

For now, though, they’re putting a brave face on things.

“Counting John McCain out of anything out he’s involved in is like counting out Muhammad Ali out the first time he got hit on the chin,” said Lewis Eisenberg, the former chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and a major Republican fund-raiser.

“I think it is a pretty positive thing has happened,” added Mr. Eisenberg. “The captain of this ship and the future of the president of the United States are one and the same. He knew how to make a mid-course adjustment, and I think the senator has made the right move.”

Mr. Eisenberg was referring in particular to the departures of campaign manager Terry Nelson and chief strategist John Weaver, whose resignations were announced in a single e-mail from the McCain press operation.

The statement of Mr. Weaver, who has been a constant in Mr. McCain’s political life since he first ran for president, was particularly poignant, underscoring the serious difficulties the campaign has encountered raising money and building support for Mr. McCain.

“As of today, I have resigned my position as chief strategist to John McCain’s presidential campaign,” he said in the statement. “It has been my honor and a distinct privilege to serve someone who has always put our country first. I believe that most Americans will come to the conclusion that I have long known there is only one person equipped to serve as our nation’s chief executive and deal with the challenges we face, and that person is John McCain.”

Several donors said they had heard that Mr. Nelson had been fired in response to the campaign’s out-of-control spending, though many said they were stunned to see Mr. Weaver resign, and were not clear as to whether he did so voluntarily or not.

The campaign said that both Mr. Nelson and Mr. Weaver chose to leave out of a sense of responsibility for the campaign’s financial travails, and that they put Mr. McCain’s interests above their own.

The campaign also said that Mark Salter, Mr. McCain’s longtime chief-of-staff and co-author on all his books, had taken himself off payroll and would continue working as a senior advisor to Mr. McCain for free.

As widespread speculation set in over whether the resignations meant the immediate end to Mr. McCain’s pursuit of the presidency, the senator followed up with his own statement, expressing “regret and deep gratitude” to the departed staffers and a commitment to “continue to address the issues of greatest concern to the American people, laying out my vision for a secure and prosperous America.”

Later in the afternoon, he held a conference call with major donors, trying to put as positive a spin as possible on the day’s dreary events. He told donors that he had promoted Rick Davis as campaign manager, that the finance structure was in decent shape and that Mr. Nelson and Mr. Weaver would stay close to the campaign as friends and advisers. About eight donors asked questions that reflected their confidence in the campaign, said several sources in on the call.

But not all of Mr. McCain’s top donors seemed so enthusiastic.

“It was inevitable,” said Georgette Mosbacher, a top Republican donor supporting Mr. McCain. “Let’s face it—you can’t burn through that kind of money.”

She was referring to the millions of dollars in campaign expenditures that the campaign went through to apparently limited results. Mr. McCain, who raised $11 million in the last fund-raising quarter has only about $2 million of cash on hand. He trails Rudy Giuliani in national polls and Mitt Romney has built a much more effective campaign infrastructure in the primary states.

The McCain Campaign Seeks a Mulligan