McCain Turns Focus To His Fundraising

By Michael D. Shear and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 23, 2007

As the Senate debate over immigration raged yesterday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had breakfast, brunch and lunch fundraisers in Houston before heading north to gather money at a supporter's home in Dallas and, later, from young professionals at a gourmet Mexican restaurant.

It's the new McCain: Working furiously to rebound from a lackluster fundraising effort in the first three months of the year, he is forgoing many opportunities for public campaigning and sharply cutting back his role as a high-profile legislator with a knack for brokering deals.

Today's schedule includes a breakfast fundraiser in Fort Worth and a meeting of his national finance team in Washington, followed by a gathering on the rooftop of a downtown law firm with more young professionals.

It all amounts to "an increased focus on fundraising and doing more events," said McCain spokesman Brian Jones. "I think you'll see more of that in June."

The emphasis on fundraising is critical for McCain, in particular, after he finished third among GOP front-runners in the first quarter, trailing both former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and ex-New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

The money-raising activity has proved to be something of a zero-sum game, however. On the campaign trail, the intense focus on fundraising has crowded out some of the retail campaigning that was a trademark of his first presidential campaign. The candidate who rode the Straight Talk Express for 71 days and 15,000 miles in 2000 has spent eight days on the bus so far in the 2008 campaign, aides said.

Since January, McCain has missed half of the Senate's scheduled votes -- 87 -- including all 45 votes held since first-quarter fundraising reports were released April 15 that showed McCain trailing all of the leading candidates in both parties. His absence from backroom negotiations over the immigration bill sparked a heated exchange last week with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who accused him of "parachuting in" at the last minute.

"[Expletive] you," McCain replied, according to several people who witnessed the exchange.

The spat with Cornyn again raised the specter of McCain's temper, for which the former sailor is infamous. In an interview during a recent campaign swing, McCain acknowledged the damage done to his previous campaign when he lashed out at his adversaries during the 2000 South Carolina primary.

"I was mad in South Carolina as you know. I was mad," he said in March. "In fact, it hurt me, because I got angry and it showed. And people don't like angry candidates. They really don't."

Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, whose group Americans for Tax Reform was targeted by McCain's committee during lobbying investigations last year, said the exchange with Cornyn reminded him of the McCain of old.

"You can have a temper and be angry. He has a history of personalizing disputes," Norquist said. "When he's mad at the NRA, he attacks Wayne LaPierre. . . . Every time we have an argument about policy, he gets personal."

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