McCain's continued success in taking the money out of politics
With attention focused on the Democrats’ infighting for the presidential nomination, Senator John McCain is pressing ahead to the general election but has yet to sign up one critical constituency: the big-money people who powered the Bush fund-raising machine.The good news for McCain is that the Democrats are burning through their money as fast as they raise it and Hillary will be raising money to pay off debt after the campaign is over.
As he reintroduces himself to voters this week with stops like one at the Naval Air Station in Meridian, Miss., where he was a flight instructor, Mr. McCain will also attend to another crucial task by courting donors in Mississippi, Florida and Tennessee.
Building up his fund-raising apparatus is essential at this point for Mr. McCain, who struggled for much of last year to raise money. To prevail in the general election, he will need to raise substantial amounts of cash to cut into the vast fund-raising edge the Democratic presidential candidates have shown over the Republicans this election cycle.
Even though he all but secured the Republican nomination by mid-February, Mr. McCain has so far managed to enlist only a fraction of the heavyweight bundlers of campaign contributions who helped drive President Bush’s two runs for the White House, an examination of Mr. McCain’s fund-raising network shows.
Well over half of the top fund-raisers for Mr. Bush, who raised a record $274 million for him in the 2004 primary season, stayed on the sidelines through this year’s Republican nominating contests. Others wound up working for Rudolph W. Giuliani, who signed up the most top Bush fund-raisers, and Mitt Romney, who had about the same number as Mr. McCain.
The dearth of Pioneers and Rangers, the elite fund-raisers for Mr. Bush who collected more than $100,000 or $200,000 respectively for his re-election bid in 2004, is illustrative of just how far Mr. McCain has to go to build up his financial operation.
Several former Bush fund-raisers said in interviews that they believed many more Rangers and Pioneers would mobilize for Mr. McCain, now that he was the presumptive nominee. But some also said they might not, citing reasons like personal circumstances, a lack of enthusiasm for Mr. McCain (especially compared with Mr. Bush) and exhaustion.
“It takes an enormous amount of passion,” said Joyce Haver, a Phoenix businesswoman who was a Bush Pioneer in 2000 and a Ranger in 2004 and who said she was unlikely to plunge in again. “I probably don’t have the passion I had last time.”
Ms. Haver, who said she still believed that Mr. McCain would make a far better president than either of the Democratic candidates, said her lack of enthusiasm stemmed from a number of factors, including her frustration with politics in general and with Mr. McCain’s support for the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that many conservatives revile.
Several veteran fund-raisers for Mr. Bush also pointed out that Mr. McCain’s campaign organization was forced to retrench after his candidacy stalled over the summer and is now straining under the burden of expanding into a national operation — it is still, for example, operating with just four finance staff members.
“I would hope they might be a little better organized by this point,” said Bruce Bialosky, an accountant and former Bush Pioneer from Los Angeles who has not yet committed to raising money for Mr. McCain. “They geared down so much it’s almost difficult for them to gear back up.”
As Mr. McCain has focused on building up his campaign treasury in recent weeks, there are signs that the pace of fund-raising has begun to pick up. A recent event in New York City, led by former Senator Alfonse D’Amato, brought in $2 million, as did another one earlier this month in Florida.
Campaign finance records also show that contributions from former Bush bundlers increased significantly after Mr. McCain’s candidacy began to catch on, and donations typically tend to pour in as the summer party convention nears.
While I want to elect a Republican this fall, I still do not see the investment in McCain that I saw in Bush. It is probably hard for the NY Times to comprehend, but I liked Bush more than McCain and still do. I do not think he has been a failed President or a disaster as many in the media claim. Republican politicians who think there is an advantage in distancing themselves from him should consider that they are also distancing themselves from his supporters and in the GOP there are more of us than the media has been willing to acknowledge.