WASHINGTON -- The presidential prospects of Republican Sen. John McCain suffered another blow yesterday, as two top advisers departed a campaign that has struggled with lagging poll numbers, lackluster fundraising, close identification with an unpopular war and a clash with his party's rank-and-file conservatives over immigration.
Campaign manager Terry Nelson, a veteran of President Bush's successful 2004 re-election, and chief strategist John Weaver, a long-time McCain adviser and close friend who was an architect of the senator's 2000 presidential campaign, resigned less than a week after the campaign announced a shake-up that laid off dozens of campaign staff members. In addition, two other senior campaign officials quit yesterday.
McCain, of Arizona, entered the presidential campaign as the presumptive GOP front-runner but has been passed by rivals in public support and financial strength. With his organization sized to fit the robust campaign he expected to wage and donations during the past three months slipping further, his spending burned through most of the campaign's treasury, leaving him with only $2 million in the bank at the end of June.
The maverick image that was at the core of his appeal in his 2000 presidential bid has been blurred as he reached out to the Republican establishment while he angered conservatives by embracing a Bush administration-backed immigration reform plan that included a controversial path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
As if to underscore the way McCain has become tethered to the administration's Iraq policies, an e-mailed announcement of the campaign officials' resignations popped into reporters' in boxes just as McCain was rising on the Senate floor to plead with his colleagues to give Bush's troop buildup more time to succeed.
Surrounded by reporters as he walked off the Senate floor, McCain said he "of course" intended to continue his candidacy and was pleased with the direction of his campaign.
"I think we're doing fine," he said. "I'm very happy with the campaign the way it is."
But, on top of McCain's low poll numbers and weak financial performance, the turmoil in his campaign organization risks further erosion in his support.
"When you have a major shake-up like that, supporters may hear a death rattle, and death rattles don't attract money," said John Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College in California and a former Republican National Committee staffer. "It's very difficult to pull out of a dive like this."
Still, about six months remain before the first votes are cast. And other candidates have bounced back from early difficulties. The 2004 Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts fired top campaign officials in late 2003 and was so squeezed financially that he mortgaged his house to continue funding his campaign.
McCain has trailed rivals Rudolph W. Giuliani and Mitt Romney in fundraising throughout the year. He raised just $11.2 million during the three months ended June 30, down from $13.6 million in the first quarter of 2007 .
Recent polls have shown McCain in third and fourth place in the key early states of New Hampshire and Iowa. National polls have him trailing Giuliani and a likely new entrant, former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee.
Mike Dorning writes for the Chicago Tribune.