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Debate coach Brett O'Donnell blocked from Mitt World after turning Romney from debate dud to stud.

Something happened to Mitt Romney the Monday before last. He didn't just hold his own with Newt Gingrich at a Tampa debate. He owned him. Romney edged Gingrich a second time a few days later in Jacksonville.

What changed? Some say Brett O'Donnell.

A former Michele Bachmann adviser and adviser to John McCain before that, O'Donnell had just been hired as debate adviser or coach. It's not clear. But, if he did anything with Romney before the debates, he was clearly what they call in sports "a difference maker." He's also humble and blushes in a true evangelical way at four-letter words.

Right after the Tampa debate, when we asked him what he had done, he was quick to downplay his involvement and issue a correction.

"I'm just helping out," he said.

Are you getting paid?

"Well...." he hedged. "Let's say I'm just helping out."

What did he do with Romney?

"He needed to hone his attacks, go right at him (Gingrich)," O'Donnell said. "He needed to focus his arguments."

Don't expect any more help like that from O'Donnell, at least in the short term. Politico just dropped the bomb that O'Donnell ultimately wasn't hired and what transpired behind the scenes. It plays off a New York Times profile of the campaign that seemed to credit every consultant at the Romney campaign for Romney's successes.

Then on Saturday, when the New York Times posted a Sunday story online detailing how Romney’s campaign targeted Newt Gingrich in Florida that again mentioned O’Donnell’s role with the debates, chief Romney strategist Stuart Stevens called O’Donnell. Stevens asked the adviser to contact Jim Rutenberg, one of the Times reporters who wrote the piece, and request that the reporter change the depiction of O’Donnell’s role in what would become a front-page article, according to Republican sources.

The Times altered some of the language relating to O’Donnell in the final story — he was mentioned briefly as only a “debate adviser” — but O’Donnell’s name was not removed. O’Donnell was not quoted in the story.

Reached on the phone by POLITICO Friday, O’Donnell declined to comment.

Stevens would only say: “I have a great deal of respect for Brett and would welcome the opportunity to work together again down on the road.”

The whole Politico story is here.

Before it broke, Republican consultan and O'Donnell pal Ana Navarro this afternoon attended a pre-taping of Sunday's CBS4 News & Views where she noted hat Romney needs a word adviser all the time because of his penchant for gaffes. She said O'Donnell turned Romney from a debate dud into a stud.

O'Donnell's backers include none other than Sen. McCain, who started hearing whispers of the envy O'Donnell was engendering on the campaign trail in Florida. A dismayed McCain expressed his support of O'Donnell. In the end, true to form, O'Donnell didnd't want to get involved. He didn't want to cause a problem or be the center of attention.

Too late.