Last week the candidate's released their quarterly reports on fundraising.
The two big surprises were McCain and Obama. McCain raised an unexpectedly small amount (only $12.5 million compared to Mitt Romney's $23 million). Obama raised an unexpectedly large amount ($23.5 million to Clinton's $26 million - although more of his money was raised for the primaries than Clinton. See, candidates can raise $2300 from a single donor in the primaries and that amount again during the general election. At some of the big donor fundraisers, attendees write $4600 in checks for both races).
[The amount of money being raises far surpasses anything we've seen in prior years. This will be a billion dollar campaign, without any question.]
The comparison between Obama's and McCain's fundraising style illustrates two very different ways to fundraise. Obama has recreated the Dean strategy of raising smaller donations through the Internet. He received donations from more than $100,000 donors, which beat all the other candidates [see article]. Half of his donations came from donors who gave online [see article].
McCain also had adopted a small donor approach to fundraising, but his clear campaign finance reform stance seems to have turned off donors (according to the pundits). After the fundraising reports, his campaign announced that he would more aggressively adopt the Bush strategy of "pioneer" fundraising. He has recruited several of President Bush's top fundraisers, whom Bush labeled "pioneers" and gave special perks (such as private dinners with candidate Bush) for raising $100,000 each.
My sense is McCain also is in trouble because he does not enthuse the conservative base of the Republican party, which was McCain's trouble in 2000. That election, McCain attracted independents, weak Democrats, and weak Republicans to his campaign. But the core of his party was suspicious of his reformist bent and his lack of vocal support for social conservative values. Unlike in 2000, his "straight-talk express" was a novelty, though, and there was something refreshing and exciting about his no-B.S. approach to campaigning.
This time around he does not appear to be quiet so "straight" in his talk. Recall that he had been a vocal opponent to President Bush's attempt to pressure Congress to include some forms of "interrogation" (or "torture" if you prefer) when detaining suspects of terrorism. Yet, when it came to actually writing the legislation, McCain bowed to Bush and wrote into the Senate's bill legislation which gave the President wide discretion in determining what constitutes appropriate interrogation tactics.
Just last week, McCain was in Iraq investigating the situation in Baghdad. He attended a large market to see how life was for Iraqis and declared during a press conference (rather testily according to some reporters) that things had improved in Iraq, and that he felt perfectly safe to walk about the market, which in past months had been a target of attacks. He failed to point out, though, that he showed up at the market in a bulletproof vest with over 100 support troops, helicopters flying overhead, sharp shooters placed on roof tops, and traffic redirected away from the market.
A New York Times journalist interviewed merchants at the market following McCain's visit and reported that the market was not safer, that the merchants were losing money, and that they had expressed their fears and concerns when McCain and the other congressmembers in the delegation spoke with them. But, McCain did not report their concerns, and tried to create a vision of the market as a symbol of an increasingly safe Baghdad.
Three days later, McCain issued an apology of sorts, saying that he "misspoke" when he said that the market was safe and a sign of improved conditions in Baghdad.
So, the "straight-talker" seems to have lost his straight-talking ways. If he can't appeal to independents, and if he continues to fail to excite conservatives, his campaign won't make it through the primaries.
Obama, by comparison, attracts not only independents but also weak and strong Democrats. He has the advantage of being novel, viewed as a relative "outsider" when compared with Clinton, of offering something fresh and different. He also had not adopted a persona yet that he has since betrayed (which is McCain's problem). Obama has staying power that will continue to be a major threat to the Clinton campaign. And, unlike Dean in 2004, he so far has not alienated journalists who cover his campaign, nor shown signs of being a hothead or "unstable."
As much as we may hate the amount of money that flows to campaigns, they serve as an important symbol of the viability and potency of a campaign.