Fresh Blood

Trump Hires Another Veteran Operative to Fight for Delegates

Ken McKay adds tactical expertise to the billionaire's campaign at a crucial time.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves as he leaves after speaking at a rally on April 24, 2016, in Hagerstown, Maryland.

Photographer: MOLLY RILEY/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump hired his third campaign manager of a former rival, adding another veteran political operative to help fight for the delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

Ken McKay joins as a senior adviser working on the team led by Trump convention manager Paul Manafort.

“Ken has a proven track record in winning state political races,” Trump said in the announcement. “He will support our delegate operations team and bolster our ground game efforts. He brings tremendous experience to the job, and I know he is up to the task of working with my team.” 

McKay's focus is on getting the upper hand on Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who has been diminishing the power of Trump's victories by locking his own supporters into national delegate slots at state conventions. 

The new hire comes at a crucial moment, as Cruz and Ohio Governor John Kasich form an alliance to prevent Trump, the front-runner, from getting the necessary 1,237 delegates to win the Republican presidential nomination by June 8.

Earlier in the presidential race, McKay served as campaign manager to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who dropped out and endorsed Trump in February. A week and a half ago, Trump picked up Rick Wiley, who managed Scott Walker’s campaign before the Wisconsin governor left the race in September. And in late March, he snagged Ed Brookover, who was Ben Carson’s campaign manager until the neurosurgeon dropped out.

McKay, a native of Rhode Island, ran gubernatorial races there for Donald Carcieri in 2002 and 2006, winning both. He was chief of staff at the Republican National Committee under Chairman Michael Steele from March 2009 to April 2010. He helped Florida Republican Rick Scott claim the governor’s office in 2010, and served as political director at the Republican Governors Association under Christie’s chairmanship in 2014 and 2015, helping usher in a wave of GOP governors nationwide.

“This is a serious strategist and tactician,” said Curt Anderson, who was former presidential candidate Bobby Jindal’s chief strategist but is now unaffiliated with any campaign. He has known McKay for about 15 years. “This is not a guy who wastes his time going on cable TV and running his mouth. Trump hiring Ken McKay is a bad thing for the Ted Cruz campaign, I can assure you of that.”

Trump last week dominated the primary vote in his home state of New York, picking up 90 delegates to Cruz's zero, while Cruz between March 22 and now has whisked up delegates in Colorado, Wyoming, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Maine, Utah, and other states. Cruz lags Trump in the delegate count and is beyond the point where he could lock in the nomination with outright primary wins, but has used the local convention process to scoop delegates in states that have already held primaries and caucuses. 

On Sunday night, strategists for Cruz and Kasich announced an alliance meant to thwart Trump in three more states: Cruz will stop competing in Oregon and New Mexico, clearing the path for Kasich, while Cruz will instead zoom in on Indiana, a more delegate-rich state where Cruz is within striking distance of Trump.  

Trump in a statement late Sunday called the alliance “a horrible act of desperation from two campaigns who have horribly failed.”

The next round of voting is Tuesday in Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. Trump is expected to do well in all five.

In recent weeks, Trump has been on a hiring spree, collecting strategists sidelined as the GOP field winnowed from 17 to three. While Trump continues to wield his anti-establishment hammer at rallies, saying he doesn't want his fans to “fall asleep,” his strategists have turned their attention to wooing Republicans turned off by his unpredictability in closed door meetings. Last week, Trump dispatched Manafort, Wiley, and Brookover to the Republican National Committee's spring meeting at an oceanside resort in Florida to court party insiders, some of whom had reluctantly settled on Cruz as their candidate of last resort.

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