Behind The Scenes Of The McCain Campaign, Version 2.5

For the next 19th weeks, newly promoted McCain adviser Steve Schmidt has a motto to match his expanded portfolio.

"Perfection is our goal," he said to members of McCain's staff yesterday morning. "It will never be obtained, but excellence is our standard and it will be reached every day."

Schmidt, according to a McCain adviser, brings "clear-thinking" to an underdog campaign. Schmidt "has no illusions about where we stand, what the state of the party is, and what the climate of the election cycle is," the adviser said.

Several weeks ago, McCain asked Davis to cede some of his duties to Schmidt. Scheduling is arguably the least appreciated and most important. In recent months, long-scheduled fundraisers determined where McCain would be, and messaging events were scheduled around the fundraising. The messaging was scattershot and often contradictory McCain would tout his "Lexington Project," a nickname for his renewable energy initiatives on the same day he held a fundraiser with oil executives. He would deliver a major speech on governing in a bipartisan manner on a Thursday and then give a partisan speech to the National Rifle Association on a Friday. In general, the campaign wasn't able to deliver on a consistent message over the series of four days.

Next week, partly in response to criticism that McCain has paid little attention to economic anxiety, he'll focus on jobs for a solid week; every location he visits will reflect the message, and not fundraising priorities.

Schmidt's overhaul of the campaign's political and field shops will be comprehensive. Staffers will be moved around, although none will be fired. The regional campaign managers will report to a national political director -- possibly Mike Dennehy -- and field directors will report to a field manager. The purpose of the political and field operations will be less ambitious than the all-encompassing RCM model: they'll be tasked with identifying voters, building affinity and volunteer coalitions, and in November, turning them out.

Schmidt also plans chances to the campaign's site and event advance teams. "A premium will be put on precise execution," one adviser said.

And fast decision making -- a Republican who worked with Schmidt on the 2004 presidential campaign said that Schmidt likes to make decisions quickly, an asset in a topsy-turvy political environment.

Some Republican strategists close to the campaign worry that the power sharing arrangement between Schmidt and Davis will inevitably lead to more friction as the lines of authority aren't clear. The talk among Republicans here in Aspen was that McCain has as much of a message problem as an execution problem.

And what about Schmidt's relationship with Karl Rove? The two men do talk, but Republicans who know them both say that Schmidt is an independent operator -- not a Rove acolyte.