McCain Working for Dollars, Not Votes?

Robert Spencer for The New York Times  Senator John McCain, in a campaign-style trip to New Hampshire, attended a Republican fund-raiser on Friday in Concord. Andrew Malcolm has dissected John McCain’s schedule and concluded that he’s spending all his time scrounging for money rather than reaching out to voters.

Just 3 1/2 months out from the presidential election, McCain’s national campaign schedule is being driven by the quest for money, not by the hunt for votes in 50 individual state elections. All right, every campaign says it’s gonna compete everywhere. But they don’t.  He’s always looking for votes wherever he goes. But wherever he goes is determined not by potential votes but by where his finance folks have found enough donate-able money to set up fundraisers.

For McCain for now his itinerary is built on the quest for dollar$, not votes. That helps explain the widespread sense of unease among many Republicans nationally who do not deny he’s working very hard.  But they fear he wasted his three-month general election head start not defining himself and not driving home the all-important central message of why he wants to be president.

Do you know what McCain’s central message is? Do you know what his opponent’s central theme is? See the difference?

The worry that Barack Obama’s huge fundraising advantage has caused McCain to scramble to catch up is legitimate.  McCain’s setting fundraising records and Obama’s still outraising him 2-to-1.  This is mostly offset by much greater revenue flow and cash on hand by the RNC vice the DNC, but it’s a real issue.   Obama may well have the luxury of spending money trying to win — or at least force McCain to spend resources defending — states where Democrats typically don’t bother campaigning.

The second argument — that Obama is doing a better job communicating his message — strikes me as silly, though.  Obamas message is “The Change You’ve Been Hoping For” or some variant on that.  Less poetically, it’s “I’m not George W. Bush!”  McCain’s message is “It’s a dangerous world and you need a guy who’s demonstrated he can deal with danger to lead you.”  Less pithy, to be sure, but it’s clear enough.

That McCain hasn’t closed the deal on this is hardly surprising.  He’s a Republican and there’s a picture of him hugging the woefully unpopular President Bush out there.  Further, while he’s different than Bush on a whole variety of issues, he wants to continue trying to win in Iraq, easily the least popular of the unpopular Bush’s unpopular policies.  That’s not a messaging problem, though, but a product problem.

Beyond that, as I’ve maintained for months, McCain is overplaying the Vietnam POW card.  While the image of him standing tall against torture in defense of his country and his honor is at the core of his message, he’s not going to win the presidency based on how courageous he was when his opponent was nine.   He needs to be more foreward looking.  As Stacy McCain (no relation) –observes that, “Appealing to patriotic geriatrics is all fine and good, but it’s hard to staff a campaign from the hip-replacement/coronary-stent crowd. McCain’s inability — or unwillingness — to consider the interests and concerns of younger voters is a major weakness, and not one that can be corrected in July.”  And Stacy’s no spring chicken, I might add.

Amazingly, though, with all his disadvantages and all his opponent’s advantages — both in terms of personal qualities and external circumstances — he’s just barely behind.  The RealClearPolitics average has him trailing by a mere 4.1 points.  That the most exciting candidate in nearly half a century, running against an old man who doesn’t inspire his own party base and faced with an electorate itching to throw said party out on its backside, isn’t simply running away with the race at this point is astounding.   Then again, everybody was writing John McCain off last summer, too.

Photo: Robert Spencer for The New York Times

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    I wonder how many people who haven’t already decided who they are going to vote for are paying attention right now. Or to put it another way, would his campaign really be better off hunting votes or dollars right now?

  2. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    McCain Working for Dollars, Not Votes?

    Well, Duh!!! Hell, if he was looking for votes he wouldn’t be defending his comprehensive immigration reform, talking about “obscene profits” of successful corporations, and the need to keep ANWR pristine.

  3. chum says:

    I don’t know if Obama’s all that rock star-ish anymore. No doubt he is still popular, but there are a lot of chinks in his armor. And I don’t mean the ones resulting from HIllary’s absurd desperation tactics – these dents in his persona are deserved, real.

    I’m a Democrat who liked Obama at the start and was intrigued at his message and style. I never thought he would redeem us, but his flip flop on FISA really disgusted me because it was one of those things that really represented Bush’s moral bankruptcy to me. Nobody will stand up to Bush, ever. Certainly not the GOP rank and file, and no Dems either. The Democratic fear of Bush is exhausting, their cowardice makes me wish that both parties could lose until someone took a risk and exhibited some real leadership.

    My point is that my disenchantment with Obama – I still like him in a vague, watered down way and see him as more of a typical liberal – is pretty widespread, I think, among Dems. Sure he’s better than the empty suit McCain, but I’m tired of choosing the least of two evils.

    All this is meant to disagree with this post’s assessment that ‘despite all this,’ McCain’s only behind a few points.

    Yeah, point taken, but Obama isn’t such an interesting candidate anymore either, esp. to Dems.

  4. MM says:

    I think that now is the perfect time to be fundraising rather than reaching out to voters. People are taking summer vacations or spending their evenings and weekends outdoors, or on moving or various other summer things.

    Most of us who are political junkies have already decided who we are voting for, and most of the people who don’t follow politics that closely will wait until after the conventions and after the debates start.

    At that point both candidates will need to be reaching out to voters and prepping for debates and won’t have time (or the desire to be caught at $1,000 a plate dinners) to fundraise consistantly.

  5. Bruce Moomaw says:

    I’ll go with Chum. This is despite the fact that I remain annoyed with the evidence — utterly clear at this point — that the political press as a whole keeps cutting breaks for McCain that they refuse to cut for Obama. (This is partly, I think, because they’re still terrified of being accused of “liberal bias” — which utterly wrecked their willingness to warn us about the horrendous corruption and incompetence of the Bush Administration, just as it had kept them from exposing the horrendous corruption of the Nixon Administration until Woodward, Bernstein, and a whole series of strokes of pure luck broke that spell — and partly because McCain is willing to talk to them directly without the shield of a press secretary and so keeps supplying them with nice fresh exclusives, even on those occasions when he’s making a jackass of himself in the process.)

    But the shine is definitely off the brass where Obama is concerned: he really did initially promise to be an unusually daring, honest and interesting candidate, but he really is rapidly turning back into a pumpkin in that respect. It isn’t just his backpedalling on some very important FISA reforms, either. It’s also:

    (1) His ducking of his earlier promises regarding public financing of his campaign — there’s a strong case that McCain has actually been breaking the law here by misusing private primary-campaign contributions for the general election, but Obama seems totally unconcerned with bringing up that fact provided he’s allowed to renege on his own promise;

    (2) His own impossible-to-deny evasiveness regarding his longtime relationship with Pastor Wright; and

    (3) The now-clear fact that he dislikes talking to the press at all.

    So. Better than McCain? Overwhelmingly, I think. “The most exciting candidate in nearly half a century”? Not any more. (On the other hand, he is also unquestionably the most genuinely intellectual major-party nominee at least since Stevenson, and maybe longer — which means, I suppose, that once he’s actually elected he might turn exciting again. But I really do come originally from Missouri, and in this matter you now will definitely have to Show Me.)

    Postscript: while we’re making comparisons, John McCain is infinitely preferable to his namesake — whom I first ran into a few years back after he’d written a piece for the Washington Times in which he enthusiastically defended Trent Lott’s support for segregation. The unsurprising moral is that, no matter how bad So-And-So is, you can always find somebody else worse.

  6. Our Paul says:

    For my money, the Stacy McCain’s post, quoted by James Joiner deserves a read… Hard to tell if it is a joke or not, but to this rum sodden brain it appears that the Other McCain was actually pinning for (gasp), George Allen!!!

    Yes, George Allen, where is he when we really need him?

  7. davod says:

    The shine is starting to come off the “little peoples money” meme. This from Atlas Shrugs Obama, who is Jeanne McCurdy?

    “…There are way too many overseas contributions and I find it hard to believe they are all American citizens. How does the FEC monitor that? Some of contributions appear to be “bundled” from one person as source to hide the contributions of many, and an example of one among many such “incidents” will clearly show why I arrive at such a conclusion..

    A red flag is a donor like Jeanne McCurdy. Look at the contribution excerpt below. It’s a compilation of a mere four pages of listings, pages 40-44, approximately 9% of the pages of the total document I received, and it lists contributions made by a Jeanne McCurdy, who is always listed as unemployed, and who does not have an address at least as can be found in the files provided (and, as you might well expect, no phone number or email address either).

    John did a computation of her contributions from roughly Aug. 07 through Feb/Mar of 08, and it is over $1200. She ranges from a $15 to a $400 contribution, most running $25/35 to $50. Several of her separate contributions are listed on the same day, a very curious way to make campaign contributions, which are usually in response to mailed solicitations. (She should accumulate them, save on postage…) .

    The important point to remember about illegal contrbutions is that you can win the election using them and the only result will be a fine after the fact.

    At the moment the FEC is impotent because the Dems will not appoint any new members and there are not enough members for a quorum.