John McCain Taps Terry Nelson as Campaign Chief

ABC reports that John McCain will announce “veteran GOP campaign operative Terry Nelson as his pick to be his national campaign manager, should the Senator choose to turn his exploring into a full-blown run for the White House.”

Nelson served as national political director for Bush-Cheney ’04. He has served in senior roles in both the political and field/grassroots organizing arenas at the RNC and the NRCC.

Nelson’s hire is clearly a huge get, but will not come without controversy. Nelson made political headlines in the 2006 cycle as the strategist tapped to head up the RNC’s independent expenditure which was responsible for that extremely controversial ad in Tennessee against Harold Ford, Jr. featuring a young blonde actress portraying a woman who met Ford at a Playboy party and who suggestively asks him to call her at the end of the ad. (It caused enough heartache for one of Nelson’s other clients, Working Families for Wal-Mart, that they sought and received his resignation after the episode.) Nelson was also tied up in the recently settled New Hampshire phone jamming case and in Tom DeLay’s TRMPAC troubles from his days at the RNC.

Matt Stoler jumps on the bandwagon quickly, with a post entitled “McCain Hires Lawbreaker as Campaign Manager.”

John McCain just hired the worst man in the world to run his campaign, Terry Nelson. Nelson was an unindicted co-conspirator in the TRMPAC scandal as a key point of contact between Tom Delay and the RNC. He was James Tobin’s boss during the 2002 New Hampshire phone-jamming scandal, for which Tobin was convicted. He also worked at the head of opposition research for the NRCC this cycle, where robocalls from Republicans pretending to be Democrats were the norm all over the country. Nelson also produced the racist bimbo ad against Harold Ford.

While I saw nothing wrong with the Ford ad in question and think the pretense that robo-calling is anything unusual absurd, I must admit that someone with this kind of baggage is an odd choice to serve as the front man for McCain, a man who has built his career on smug contempt for politics as usual and a holier than thou stance on campaign ethics. Then, McCain’s actions have seldom matched his rhetoric.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. ‘John McCain just hired the worst man in the world to run his campaign’

    Wouldn’t that distinction go to the other Terry? Terry McAuliff. McAuliff was 0 for 2 in recent years.

  2. lily says:

    The “pretense that robocalling is unusual”?
    James, the robocalling was done in fifty-three campaigns. The robocalls where not informational. They were done in a deliberately harassing way and deliberately mislabelled as coming from Democrats. New Hampshire and Michigan threatened legal action against the Republicans and the Virginia board of Elections characterized the calls in that state as systematic deliberate fraud. That’s not a quote, but I’ve conveyed the meaning accurately. You really should not be minimizing or excusing this. It was campaign fraud, orchestrated from the top, and you dishonor yourself by pretending otherwise. And no, the Democrats did not do any ting that was the equivalent.

  3. James Joyner says:

    lily: I had a fuller discussion of the robo-calling flap a month ago. Neutral observers like WaPo’s Dan Balz seems to think it was much ado about nothing.

    I don’t like it and Nelson seems to, at the very least, push right up to the line of sleazy campaigning. But politics ain’t beanbag and all that.