Karl Rove (search) is a smooth, jovial political operative with a Texas-honed reputation as a ruthless competitor and three George W. Bush victories under his belt. Mary Beth Cahill (search) is a daughter of Boston's rough-and-tumble ward battles who just last year brought her no-nonsense organizational skills to Democratic opponent John Kerry's camp.

The lead operatives in the most expensive presidential race in history, the two are facing off as their bosses compete for the White House.

As a whole, the Bush team is remarkably unchanged from his 2000 presidential bid, run in corporate style by a familiar and relatively small inner circle. Kerry, by contrast, tends to favor a wide circle of advisers dominated by longtime allies from Massachusetts, but has plenty of influential faces more recently plucked from the Washington political crowd.

A look at the top hands for each side:


ALL-AROUND CHIEF:

Kerry: The unassuming, limelight-avoiding Cahill gave up her job as chief of staff to the senior senator from Massachusetts, Edward M. Kennedy (search), last November to become the junior senator's presidential campaign manager. She quickly streamlined the organization and focused the candidate, campaign and message. A former head of EMILY's List (search), which campaigns for pro-choice women candidates, and of the Public Liaison Office in the Clinton White House, Cahill functions as a gatekeeper who quiets internal clashes.


Bush: Rove grew up in the West and, though he never completed college, is a self-taught history buff with an almost encyclopedic command of data. He became a force in Texas politics and engineered Bush's successful 1994 campaign for governor, his 1998 re-election and his 2000 presidential campaign. While Rove oversees Bush's bid for a second term from his post inside the White House, campaign manager Ken Mehlman (search) is responsible for day-to-day operations. Rove is often credited with virtually unchecked power; rightly or wrongly, his stamp — and political calculus — is seen on almost every White House move.


GUT CHECK:

Bush: Karen Hughes (search) is one of Bush's most trusted sounding boards. As press secretary in the 2000 race, she was part of the "Iron Triangle" of Texas advisers who vaulted Bush into the White House, along with Rove and campaign manager Joe Allbaugh (search). She left Bush's full-time employ in 2002 and moved to Austin, Texas, but has continued to talk regularly to the president and has stepped up her involvement in the campaign in recent weeks.


Kerry: The senator consults his younger brother, Boston telecommunications lawyer Cam Kerry (search), on nearly all political matters. Kerry also would make almost no big decision without consulting his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry (search), a prominent philanthropist in environmental, health and education causes.


PULSE TAKER:

Bush: Matt Dowd (search), who previously worked for Texas Democrats, was also Bush's top pollster in 2000. This time around, he plays a broader role as the campaign's chief strategist who has become known for downplaying expectations in the media.


Kerry: Kerry looks in two directions for polling advice, from Boston-based pollster and longtime adviser Tom Kiley (search) and from Washington consultant Mark Mellman (search).


IMAGE MASTER:

Kerry: Sought-after Democratic message guru Bob Shrum (search) first appeared in Kerry's political life during the senator's tough 1996 re-election race against then-Gov. William Weld. Though he has been a force behind several successful Senate races, he has never worked on a winning presidential campaign.

Bush: Mark McKinnon (search) is reprising his 2000 role as the campaign's top media strategist. The cowboy hat-wearing, former country-rock singer-songwriter based in Austin, Texas, used to be a Democrat and specializes in warm-and-fuzzy biographical spots. He also has been the architect of hard-hitting attack ads against Kerry.

 

CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN:

Kerry: Kerry regularly turns to former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (search) for advice. She helped him win her state's primary, and remains important as the usually Republican-voting state is up for grabs in this election.

Bush: Bush picked former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot (search) to chair his campaign, moving him from his post as chairman of the Republican National Committee. Racicot was one of the most visible Bush defenders during the 2000 Florida recount.

 

MONEY MAN:

Bush: Mercer Reynolds (search) is the Ohio financier behind the record-setting effort that has raised $242 million through July for the president's re-election. Reynolds, a former partner with Bush in the Texas Rangers baseball team, gave up his cushy assignment as ambassador to Switzerland to be the national finance chairman for the Bush-Cheney campaign.

Kerry: Bob Farmer (search), Kerry's national campaign treasurer, is a veteran Democratic strategist and fund-raiser whose previous campaigns included Michael Dukakis' 1988 presidential bid. Kerry had raised $233 million until his nomination in late July.

 

PARTY TENDER

Kerry: Kerry named longtime ally and Boston operative John Sasso (search) to a newly created position at the Democratic National Committee to give Kerry control of the party without upsetting its current leadership structure. Sasso is a former chief of staff to then-Gov. Michael Dukakis and manager of Dukakis' losing 1988 presidential campaign.

Bush: GOP Chairman Ed Gillespie (search) is a successful lobbyist who also served last year as general strategist for Sen. Elizabeth Dole's successful campaign in North Carolina, and held a key job at the Republican National Convention in 2000. He is also a former communications director for the Republican Party and was instrumental in drafting the Contract With America that House Republicans rode to power in 1994.