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In Final Stretch, McCain to Pour Money Into TV Ads

By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 31, 2008

Sen. John McCain and the Republican National Committee will unleash a barrage of spending on television advertising that will allow him to keep pace with Sen. Barack Obama's ad blitz during the campaign's final days, but the expenditures will impact McCain's get-out-the-vote efforts, according to Republican strategists.

McCain has faced a severe spending imbalance during most of the fall, but the Republican nominee squirreled away enough funds to pay for a raft of television ads in critical battleground states over the next four days, said Evan Tracey, a political analyst who monitors television spending.

The decision to finance a final advertising push is forcing McCain to curtail spending on Election Day ground forces to help usher his supporters to the polls, according to Republican consultants familiar with McCain's strategy.

The vaunted, 72-hour plan that President Bush used to mobilize voters in 2000 and 2004 has been scaled back for McCain. He has spent half as much as Obama on staffing and has opened far fewer field offices. This week, a number of veteran GOP operatives who orchestrate door-to-door efforts to get voters to the polls were told they should not expect to receive plane tickets, rental cars or hotel rooms from the campaign.

"The desire for parity on television comes at the expense of investment in paid boots on the ground," said one top Republican strategist who has been privy to McCain's plans. "The folks who will oversee the volunteer operation have been told to get out into the field on their own nickel."

Obama has maintained a substantial financial advantage during the general election campaign, forcing McCain to make tough decisions when locking down a final spending plan about two weeks ago.

Scott Reed, an informal McCain adviser who in 1996 ran then-Sen. Robert J. Dole's presidential bid, said the campaign made the right call by dedicating more money to its media effort. Ads are the most efficient way to persuade undecided voters, and possibly convince some who are only tepidly backing Obama, he said.

"Obama still has not closed the deal," Reed said. "He's still polling under 50 [percent] in most of these battleground states. Don't forget, a lot of people make these decisions late."

Tracey said everything McCain and the RNC are doing is "basically aimed squarely at 'undecideds' and 'lean Obamas.' They've got to bring 'soft Obamas' over their way. TV is the best place to do that."

McCain also is being aided in the campaign's final weekend by several conservative groups, which are airing ads supporting him in key media markets.

Left-leaning groups are also on the air. MoveOn.org announced yesterday it has begun airing ads backing Obama in Arizona.

RNC officials said the party would be picking up the slack for a portion of the Election Day field effort, but it would not be running the entire operation as it did in 2004. The RNC will pay per diems and travel costs for 750 volunteers who fanned out to battleground states yesterday.

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