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Allen Taps Wadhams as Chief of Staff

In an early move that could help shape the 2008 presidential race, veteran campaign manager Dick Wadhams is joining Virginia Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) as chief of staff.

Wadhams most recently won plaudits for directing the successful campaign of ex-Rep. John Thune (R-S.D.) against Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.

Wadhams will start the new job on Jan. 1 and will move to Washington from his native Colorado. He succeeds longtime Allen chief of staff Jay Timmons, who is going into the private sector.

“Over the course of the last year, as Senator Allen was the chairman of the [National Republican Senatorial Committee], I had the opportunity to see him up close and get to know him,” Wadhams said in an interview Thursday.

Wadhams deflected talk of the impact of his hiring on the early positioning for 2008.

“The only thing to read is that Senator Allen wanted a chief of staff who could help him in his service and representation to the commonwealth of Virginia,” he said.

One high-level Republican strategist was more blunt. “He’s a first-round draft pick in ’08,” the source said of Wadhams.

In addition to Thune’s race, Wadhams has run many high-profile Senate and gubernatorial campaigns over the past decade.

He managed the 1996 and 2002 campaigns of Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) and the 2000 race of Montana Sen. Conrad Burns (R) among others.

In each case, Wadhams’ fiery rhetorical style and willingness to publicly inject himself into the campaign was credited with preserving victories for the Senators.

He also managed the first gubernatorial bid by Bill Owens (R-Colo.) in 1998. Owens, who easily won a second term in 2002, had been considered a presidential hopeful himself, but suffered a setback in 2004 with GOP losses of both chambers of the state legislature, as well as a Senate seat and a House seat. He is also involved in a high-profile separation with his wife.

In that context, Wadhams’ decision to sign on with Allen could be read as a slackening in Owens’ own presidential hopes.

Despite his earlier successes, Thune’s victory in 2004 cemented Wadhams’ status as a Republican star at the staff level. Thune was the first challenger to defeat a sitting Senate leader since 1952, when Sen. Ernest McFarland (D-Ariz.) lost to Barry Goldwater (R).

Allen continues to deflect talk about a possible presidential bid, insisting that his attention is entirely focused on winning re-election in 2006.

Gov. Mark Warner (D) is mentioned as a potential challenger to Allen, but Warner, too, has presidential ambitions, which could be an argument against taking on a bruising battle against Allen.

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