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4 at top depart McCain campaign

Spending is called factor in shake-up

Senator John McCain cast his staff changes in a positive light for reporters on Capitol Hill yesterday. 'I think we're doing fine . . . We'll have ups and downs in this campaign,' he said. Senator John McCain cast his staff changes in a positive light for reporters on Capitol Hill yesterday. "I think we're doing fine . . . We'll have ups and downs in this campaign," he said. (Lauren Victoria Burke/associated press)

At least four top officials quit Senator John McCain's troubled presidential campaign yesterday, a shake-up initiated by McCain after he returned from Iraq on Friday.

The Arizona Republican had ordered economy moves in April and was irate that his campaign spent more money than it took in over the past three months, a friend of the candidate said yesterday.

Campaign manager Terry Nelson, chief strategist John Weaver, deputy manager Reed Galen, and political director Rob Jesmer all resigned, according to the campaign. Rick Davis, who had been serving as chief executive focused mostly on fund-raising, will assume the manager's role. He managed McCain's unsuccessful campaign for president in 2000. Weaver was also a top aide in that campaign. Nelson was one of several veterans of President George W. Bush's political team to sign on with the McCain campaign.

The campaign issued statements in which Nelson and Weaver expressed their continued support for the candidate.

Last week, while McCain was in Iraq, Nelson and Weaver told reporters that the campaign had only $2 million cash on hand despite raising more than $24 million during the first six months of the year. They said the campaign was seriously considering whether to accept public matching funds; McCain received almost $14.8 million in public funds in his 2000 race. They also disclosed deep budget cuts that have resulted in more than half of the campaign's staff being let go.

A close friend of McCain's, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified, said McCain was upset the campaign had spent heavily on staff and consultants and had nothing to show for it. He said McCain, whom some once considered the front-runner for the GOP nomination, now plans to run a bare-bones campaign focused on early states in the delegate-selection process -- Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

He is to return Friday to New Hampshire, the scene of his great triumph -- a landslide primary win over Bush in 2000 -- for a policy address on Iraq in Concord, followed by a town hall meeting Saturday in Claremont. It was not clear late yesterday whether the campaign shake-up would affect the Granite State trip. Calls to McCain's state headquarters in Manchester went unanswered.

His campaign staff was hoping the New Hampshire visit would kick off a comeback for a candidate now cast as the underdog. Based on his defense of the Iraq war strategy yesterday in the Senate, it does not appear he will be dramatically altering his support for the war as part of that effort.

McCain has dismissed questions about dropping out of the race, and, talking to reporters in a hallway at the Capitol yesterday, tried to put the best face on the campaign's turmoil.

"I think we're doing fine. . . . We'll have ups and downs in this campaign," he said.

He acknowledged that his support for the war and for overhauling immigration have contributed to the campaign's problems, but said, "One, I always have to do what I know is right, and second, at the end of the day I hope that will be respected."

Reacting to the news while stumping yesterday in New Hampshire, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of McCain's GOP rivals, said: "This is way too early for anyone to be written off. John McCain is a fighter . . . I expect John to be there in the end, fighting hard."

Staff reporter Susan Milligan contributed to this report from Washington and correspondent James Pindell from Manchester, N.H.