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John McCain shakes up Senate campaign staff


U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) waits to be introduced during a campaign rally at Dobson High School in Mesa, Arizona March 27, 2010. REUTERS/Joshua Lott
U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) waits to be introduced during a campaign rally at Dobson High School in Mesa, Arizona March 27, 2010. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Senator John McCain shook up the staff running his re-election campaign in Arizona as he attempts to hold off a conservative challenger for his party's nomination, aides said on Monday.

Campaign manager Shiree Verdone and campaign aide Mike Hellon will no longer be employed on McCain's re-election and instead will work with Republican Party committees in Arizona to help the party's candidates in the state.

Spokesman Brian Rogers said the pair will work to raise money and organize for the statewide general election in the autumn and that McCain thanked them for helping to get his campaign on a firm footing.

McCain's team of long-time advisers -- Rick Davis, Charlie Black and Mark Salter -- remain at his side.

McCain is facing a challenge from the right in his bid for a fifth six-year term in the Senate, a situation echoed in other Republican races amid a wave of anti-incumbent anger and involvement by conservative "Tea Party" activists pursuing a smaller role for government.

He leads former congressman and former talk show radio host J.D. Hayworth by about a dozen percentage points in the polls ahead of Arizona's August 24 primary vote. If he survives that test, he would then face a yet-to-be-determined Democratic challenger on November 2.

Aides said the campaign shake-up had nothing to do with an uproar over a television ad entitled "Complete the Danged Fence" in which he called for the U.S. government to finish building a security fence along parts of the porous U.S.-Mexican border.

Critics accused McCain of toughening his views on illegal immigration since taking heat from conservatives for trying to broker an immigration deal in the Senate in 2007.

During his 2008 presidential campaign, McCain had argued for first improving border security as part of a comprehensive effort to fix the U.S. immigration system.

Arizona is at ground zero of the illegal immigration debate after a law was passed there in April that requires state and local police, after making "lawful contact," to check the immigration status of anyone they reasonably suspect is in the country illegally.

A poll earlier this month by the Pew Research Center found that 59 percent of American adults gave their overall approval to the law, which opponents charge is unconstitutional and a mandate for racial profiling.

Tea Party activists recently played a key role in preventing three-term Republican Senator Robert Bennett of Utah from winning his party's nomination at a state convention.

McCain has been endorsed by Sarah Palin, a favorite of the Tea Party crowd. She was McCain's vice presidential running mate in 2008.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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