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Britain's Conservatives hire Obama campaign chief in election role

Campaign manager Jim Messina speaks with the media as he walks through President Barack Obama's new campaign headquarters in Chicago May 12,
Campaign manager Jim Messina speaks with the media as he walks through President Barack Obama's new campaign headquarters in Chicago May 12,

By Costas Pitas

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's governing Conservative Party has hired U.S. President Barack Obama's former campaign manager as part of its election team ahead of polls due in less than two years, the party said.

Jim Messina, a lifelong Democrat, is the latest appointment by Prime Minister David Cameron in a bid to win the party's first overall majority in over 20 years, against a weak economic backdrop and poor poll ratings.

Currently the chairman of a group that has raised millions of dollars to support Obama's legislative program, Messina is regarded as the mastermind behind the president's comfortable re-election in 2012 through the use of social media and voter information.

Confirming the move, a Conservative Party source told Reuters on Friday that Messina would report to senior Conservatives, including recently hired Australian election strategist Lynton Crosby.

"He will act as a campaign strategy adviser ahead of the next general election," the source said.

Formerly Obama's deputy chief of staff, Messina helped push Congress to overturn a ban on openly gay military personnel serving in the U.S. military.

'LONG ADMIRED'

Messina told the BBC on Friday that his new role would not mean leaving the United States.

"I have long admired Prime Minister Cameron," he said.

"While I will not be moving to London, nor will I be managing any type of day-to-day political operations, I will be offering strategic campaign advice leading up to 2015."

Messina could not immediately be reached for comment by Reuters.

The appointment will be seen as unconventional in some quarters, with Britain's center-right Conservatives traditionally enjoying better relations with more like-minded Republicans.

The Democrats and Britain's left-of-center main opposition Labour Party have tended to share more common ground.

But transatlantic party alignments appear to have shifted in recent years.

Former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair enjoyed close ties with Republican President George W. Bush over the Iraq war, while Cameron appeared with Obama in the battleground state of Ohio during the president's re-election campaign in 2012.

In contrast to Friday's appointment, the Labour Party lost its election strategist, Tom Watson, in July, leaving the role vacant.

Britain is due to go to the polls by May 2015 after five years of a coalition government, the country's first since World War Two.

(Reporting By Costas Pitas; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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