Khachigian Lends Clout to McCain Campaign


Acid-tongued political consultant Ken Khachigian, the California strategist who has worked for every Republican presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan, on Tuesday announced he was joining John McCain’s campaign for the White House.

With Khachigian’s combative style and strategic savvy, the Arizona senator’s presidential campaign adds one of the most seasoned political advisors in vote-rich California.

“He’s a great strategist, and that comes from his experience with one of the best: Ronald Reagan,” said McCain’s campaign spokesman, Howard Opinsky. “Anybody with the kind of experience that Ken Khachigian has is valuable.”


The campaign declined to say whether Khachigian would be paid for his services.

As a clutch speech writer, Khachigian’s deft, poignant political style and instincts helped turn Reagan into the “great communicator.”

The San Clemente attorney had also served in the Nixon administration, and worked on seven presidential campaigns, including those of Reagan, George Bush and Bob Dole.

The McCain campaign hopes Khachigian will bring some political magic to its underdog campaign against Texas Gov. George W. Bush, and help deliver one of the most coveted prizes of the presidential race: a victory in California’s March 7 GOP primary.

Khachigian said he was very excited about the campaign, but that his exact role was still being developed. He said he would not be with the candidate full time but indicated, “I may go to New Hampshire at some point.”

Khachigian, who practices law in San Clemente, has contributed a bimonthly Sunday column to The Times Orange County Edition for the past 2 1/2 years. He will take a leave of absence from the column effective immediately while he works on the McCain campaign.

Khachigian joins another veteran California GOP consultant, Dan Schnur, in the McCain campaign. Schnur is McCain’s communications director.


Former California GOP Chairman Michael Schroeder, who is a co-chair of Bush’s California campaign, called Khachigian a “masterful political strategist” who will be a tremendous asset to McCain’s campaign in California.

But it won’t make any difference, Schroeder said.

“I’m a little surprised by it, but at the end of the day I don’t think it will matter. We’re just too far ahead,” Schroeder said.


Khachigian’s forte has always been crafting strong, captivating political messages for candidates, as he showed when he spearheaded former Gov. George Deukmejian’s razor-thin victory over Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley in the 1982 governor’s race.

However, in the 1990s, spreading a strong political message in California requires a deluge of television ads--and that requires a hefty campaign war chest. Which McCain doesn’t have, and Bush does, Schroeder said.

“His primary strategy is the media message, that’s what he’s known for,” Schroeder said. “McCain won’t have much of an impact, because he doesn’t have the resources.”

California Democratic Party spokesman Bob Mulholland called Khachigian’s decision to join McCain a severe blow to the Bush campaign, and said it shows that GOP leaders are getting nervous about Bush, despite his mammoth campaign account and lead in the polls.


“Clearly, McCain is coming on strong because voters are starting to see Bush as an empty suit,” Mulholland said. “What Ken brings is a signal to many Republicans that Bush Jr. has a fight on his hands.”

Still, Mulholland doubts Khachigian will add much to McCain’s efforts. Khachigian’s most recent campaigns have all been losers: Dole lost the state by a wide margin in 1996, as did Bush’s father in 1992. Two of Khachigian’s other big clients, Bruce Herschensohn and Mike Huffington, lost high-priced campaigns for the U.S. Senate in 1992 and 1994.

“He’s a three-time loser with $800 Italian shoes,” said Mulholland, a political adversary Khachigian once called “slime.”