2 McCain Staffers Depart From Iowa Operation; Florida Campaign Official Arrested

Two veteran Republican strategists are abandoning John McCain's campaign in Iowa, dealing another blow to his struggling presidential bid.

Ed Failor Jr., said Thursday that he and Karen Slifka plan to notify McCain by letter. Both are GOP operatives with deep ties in Iowa, which holds the first-in-the-nation caucuses, and national politics.

"As much as I like Senator McCain, it's not a team I'm willing to stay involved with any longer," Failor said.

Once the GOP front-runner, McCain's second presidential candidacy has been foundering on all fronts. His support has been dropping in national polls and his top GOP rivals, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, have easily outdistanced him in fundraising. Over the past week, he has accepted the resignations of two top aides in his national campaign, laid off more than half his staff, narrowed his strategy to three states and disclosed he had only $2 million to spend.

Failor ran the Iowa field operation for President Bush's campaign in 2004, assembling a deep campaign organization that energized social and religious conservatives. Bush narrowly won the state, the first time since 1984 that a Republican had prevailed in Iowa in the general election.

Failor also works for Iowans for Tax Relief, a conservative group that runs the state's largest political action committee.

Slifka came to the McCain campaign from her role as a strategist for the Republican National Committee.

Both had close ties to Terry Nelson, who served as McCain's campaign manager until his departure this week.

The defections are the latest sign of trouble for McCain in Iowa.

Jeff Lamberti, a former GOP legislative leader who is a co-chairman of McCain's Iowa campaign, said staff cuts in the state and the loss of major strategists is a blow.

"I'm not hearing a whole lot, to be honest," said Lamberti. "It definitely is tougher in Iowa. You need to be here, you need to have people on the ground."

When he sought the nomination in 2000, McCain skipped the Iowa caucuses to focus on the New Hampshire primary. There's no sign he'll make a similar decision this time, but even McCain's supporters concede he's in a difficult position.

"If you reduce the staff, you need to have the senator out here more often, rather than less often," said David Roederer, a veteran operative heading up McCain's Iowa operation. "I believe they understand that."

Roederer was on a conference call with McCain earlier in the week to discuss strategy.

"What he said was we're going to move as aggressively as we can in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina," said Roederer, referring to the states holding the first three tests of strength.

Still, some wondered whether McCain could get backers out on caucus night, in the dead of winter, to argue politics. The caucuses are scheduled for Jan. 14.

"It's boots on the ground and they had that and they were going rather well, I thought, this winter and spring," said Chuck Laudner, executive director of the Republican Party of Iowa. "It just evaporated overnight on them."

In more bad news for McCain, a co-chair of his Florida campaign — state Rep. Bob Allen — was arrested Wednesday after offering to perform oral sex for $20 on an undercover male police officer, authorities said. Allen, 48, was seen coming in and out of a restroom three times at a park in Titusville, Fla., said police Lt. Todd Hutchinson. He then approached an undercover officer and was arrested.

Allen has been charged with solicitation for prostitution, which has a maximum penalty of one year in jail. Brevard County jail officials said Allen posted a $500 bond.