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Candidates Sought Guidance From American Consultants

KIEV, Ukraine—Viktor Yanukovych owes his comeback in Ukraine's presidential election to a drastic makeover of his political persona. And, people in his party say, that makeover was engineered in part by an American consultant.

Paul J. Manafort was hired to advise the politician months after massive street demonstrations known as the Orange Revolution overturned Mr. Yanukovych's victory in the 2004 presidential race.

In recent weeks, under Mr. Manafort's tutelage, the opposition leader has put the Orange Revolution on trial, campaigning against its leaders' management of a weak economy. Returns from Sunday's election gave Mr. Yanukovych a narrow win over Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a leader of the 2004 demonstrations.

Mr. Manafort, who advised Sen. Robert Dole's 1996 presidential campaign, wasn't the only U.S. consultant drawn into Ukraine's election. Ms. Tymoshenko relied on media consulting firm AKPD, which was founded by David Axelrod, now an senior adviser to President Barack Obama. AKPD advisers were consulted on polling, strategy and message development but didn't take a central role in running Ms. Tymoshenko's her campaign.

Viktor Yushchenko, the incumbent president, got advice from Hillary Clinton's campaign strategist, Mark Penn. Mr. Yushchenko was eliminated in the first round of voting on Jan. 17.

Mr. Manafort's work for Mr. Yanukovych became an issue during John McCain's 2008 presidential run, which was at one time managed by Rick Davis, Mr. Manafort's co-owner in the lobbying firm Davis Manafort Inc. A McCain spokesman said then that Mr. Davis was on leave from his firm while he worked on the campaign and received no income from the firm. Nobody answered the telephone at Davis Manafort, in Alexandria, Va., on Monday afternoon.

None of the consultants would comment on the details of their work.

key Mr. Akhmetov had been taking advice from Mr. Manafort as he explored taking his business, SCM Holdings, public on Western financial markets.In 2006, Mr. Yanukovych's party won parliamentary elections, helping launch his comeback.

Under Mr. Manafort's guidance in the recent campaign, Mr. Yanukovych's penchant for stiff, rambling speeches gave way to an avuncular, straight-talking style. At a campaign stop in the city of Simferopol, the candidate engaged a friendly crowd with short, crisp sentences.

When one man complained about low pensions for retired military officers, he declared, "I'll fix it, 100%" and, turning to an aide, instructed: "Make a note."

Mr. Manafort declined to speak about the details of his assistance to Mr. Yanukovych. But he noted that Mr. Yanukovych had employed an effective anti-incumbent strategy.

"Tymoshenko tried to portray herself as the leader of democratic forces," Mr. Manafort said. "Yanukovych ran as the leader of the forces of change. He kept the focus on that message, on the fact that she'd had her chance and botched the job. And he made that case."

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