McCain Has Top Fundraising Month

Sen. John McCain and his wife, Cindy, greet patrons of Kerby's Koney Island diner in Bloomfield, Mich.
Sen. John McCain and his wife, Cindy, greet patrons of Kerby's Koney Island diner in Bloomfield, Mich. (By Mary Altaffer -- Associated Press)
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By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 16, 2008

Republican Sen. John McCain posted the best fundraising month of his presidential campaign in July, bringing in $27 million, but his supporters are bracing for the near-certainty that he will be operating at a severe financial disadvantage in the two-month stretch between the end of the party political conventions and Election Day.

Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has spent more than three times as much as McCain to build a sprawling nationwide field operation and has television ads airing in twice as many states as his opponent -- including typically Republican strongholds such as Alaska and North Dakota. He is experimenting with some unorthodox approaches to reaching voters, such as a 30-minute infomercial that has aired on cable television in the middle of the night.

The anticipated financial mismatch is at least partly a result of McCain's decision to join the presidential public financing program. Under the rules governing the program, he will receive $84 million in federal money for his general-election campaign but must cease his fundraising efforts on Sept. 4, the day he is to accept his party's nomination.

Obama, who opted out of the program, can continue to raise as much money as he can, relying largely on Internet donors who have on occasion demonstrated the ability to pump more than $2 million a day into the campaign's coffers. Obama has not released his July fundraising numbers yet, but in June he continued to raise substantially more than McCain, bringing in more than $50 million.

Yesterday, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis told reporters he recognizes that "we are in a different position financially than Barack Obama." But he said McCain's "very healthy" summer of fundraising will enable the Republican to maintain a strong position going into the final two months of the race.

McCain finished July with $21 million in the bank, Davis said. The Republican National Committee raised an additional $26 million and finished the month with $75 million on hand -- money that can be spent during the general election to benefit McCain, but without the campaign's direct control.

Philip A. Musser, a Republican political consultant who is helping raise money for the party, said McCain has already avoided a repeat of 1996, when President Bill Clinton used a huge financial advantage to dominate the airwaves all summer in his campaign against Republican Robert J. Dole. McCain has spent $60 million on television ads this summer, a substantial chunk of which has gone to commercials aired during NBC's broadcast of the Olympic Games.

Musser said that while no campaign would choose to be outspent, most McCain supporters have come to terms with the situation.

"The question is: When do you reach the law of diminishing returns?" he said. "We're talking about spending more than $80 million in 60 days. You get to a point where you hit your saturation point in your target states."

Steve Elmendorf, who served as deputy campaign manager for Sen. John F. Kerry's 2004 presidential bid, said he thinks that analysis amounts to little more than "spin."

"It's a significant advantage," he said. "The Obama campaign is going to be able to widen the playing field and put McCain on the defensive in states that he shouldn't have to be on the defensive in. Georgia, Montana, Alaska. McCain will either have to put resources there or have to face the potential of losing them."

Elmendorf noted that he speaks from experience. Four years ago on the Kerry campaign, he said, "we had to make some tough calls in October. We pulled out of Missouri, West Virginia. These were tough calls. If we had the money, we would have tried."

Obama will also have the luxury of experimenting with technology. In Ohio, for instance, he has been running 15-second commercials telling potential voters that if they send his campaign a text message, they can receive a free bumper sticker.

"They're going to have all those texts, so they can return to those people on Election Day with texts that say, 'Hey, go vote today,' " said Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group. "It's something you would do if you have money."

Tracey said Obama may also be able to continue a practice he began during the Olympics, buying national advertisements during major sporting events, such as NFL football games or the baseball playoffs.

Whether it will work remains an unknown. Brian Ballard, a Florida lobbyist who is raising money for McCain, said he has watched closely as Obama spent $7 million on commercials in his state while McCain has spent nothing on the Florida airwaves. Numbers there have narrowed slightly, according to local polls, but McCain has maintained his lead.

"Sometimes having money brings an undisciplined campaign," Ballard said. "Right now they're throwing money at wishes, not at reality. Frankly, I hope he keeps spending money here."

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