Surprise: Newsweek can't get Juan Hernandez on the phone

Darned curious. The last time McCain was confronted about this, he professed not to know of any controversial statements made by Hernandez while cheerily pledging to “look into it.” Does this mean he’s looked into it and decided to keep him on, albeit gagged? Or is he still getting around to “looking into it”?

Sure sounds like someone knows they have a Hernandez problem.

The job of Juan Hernandez is to win support for John McCain, particularly Latino votes. So it may seem odd that the campaign doesn’t want its national director of Hispanic outreach to get any press. Repeated NEWSWEEK requests to interview Hernandez have been rebuffed or ignored. When a reporter suggested talking to Hernandez at a convention of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, where Hernandez was slated to appear June 28, his name was suddenly removed from the list of scheduled speakers. A NALEO spokesman, Eric Wagner, says someone from the McCain campaign called and asked to replace him, but didn’t offer an explanation. (A McCain aide, who refused to be quoted discussing internal campaign strategy, later told NEWSWEEK that the campaign had never signed off on Hernandez as a speaker.)…

Some conservatives have wanted McCain to deny Hernandez any role in the campaign. “Imagine a tree and people shaking it, trying to get him out,” says [a GOP] strategist. “Well, that tree went through a hurricane.”

But one group’s villain is another’s hero. Hernandez has good ties to the Latino community, particularly church groups. McCain needs those votes, especially in swing states like Florida, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada. “If the campaign shoves [Hernandez] to the side … it would cause an enormous amount of trepidation,” says the Rev. Sam Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “He’s the only real bridge the campaign has with us.”

Exit question: Thanks to Maliki, has Maverick’s campaign now reached a sufficient crisis level that conservatives simply have to swallow hard and let this go?