July 14, 2007


Rivalries Split McCain's Team: After Months of Staff Fights, Rick Davis Emerges as the Leader of a Diminished Campaign (Michael D. Shear, Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza, 7/14/07, Washington Post)

That this campaign was going to be different from the guerrilla operation of 2000, when McCain was overwhelmed by Bush's vast superiority in endorsements and resources, was evident from the preliminary budget drawn up last November. A copy of the document, which includes page after page of detailed spending and fundraising projections, was made available to The Washington Post.

Put together under Davis's supervision, the budget envisioned first-quarter fundraising of nearly $48 million. It assumed that by now the campaign would have raised another $23 million and would have spent $26 million, leaving about $45 million in the bank. Instead, the campaign is broke.

Davis, in a phone interview yesterday, said the rosy fundraising projections were taken almost literally from a budget prepared for Bush's 2004 campaign. "Everybody agreed up until about January that the Bush model was a good model -- it worked," he said. "If we could raise as much money, we wanted to do what he did."

The initial blueprint called for numerous highly paid consultants and state directors, mega-offices in New York and California that were to open in the first months of this year, and state offices not just in Iowa and New Hampshire but around the country.

The campaign anticipated paying directors of the larger offices $140,000 a year and directors of headquarters in states such as Iowa and New Hampshire $90,000 a year.

But as January turned to February, it became clear that the campaign was bringing in far less than Davis and Carla Eudy, the finance chief, had predicted.

In part, that was the result of a difficult political environment that was far different than the one McCain faced in 2000. As the situation in Iraq deteriorated, his staunch support for Bush's troop increase became a drag on his national poll numbers. The problem became worse during an April trip to Iraq, where he walked through a marketplace -- protected by 100 soldiers and their vehicles -- and remarked afterward how safe it was. His comments were mocked by war critics for weeks.

McCain attended only a handful of fundraisers during January, and several lavish fundraising "town halls" for wealthy donors cost more and brought in less than officials had hoped. As top campaign aides received daily "cash sheet" e-mails, the fundraising staff began revising the projections downward.

The growing tension about money revived the argument inside the campaign about who was in charge -- and who was to blame.

"This budget is the result of mine and other people's labor," Davis said. "There was no division of attitude toward this budget when it started. I don't think there was any question that, getting started, we were optimistic about how much we could raise and therefore optimistic about what we could spend."

The campaign raised just $24 million in the first six months of the year and spent nearly all of it. Campaign officials reported last week that they had $2 million in cash still available, but GOP sources said that when debts are subtracted, the actual amount will be well under $1 million.

The largest early expenditures in the initial budget were for costs associated with fundraising -- almost $10 million through the first six months of the year. The campaign had contracted with fundraisers, paying them as much as $10,000 a month. One campaign source said the campaign actually lost money on some of those fundraisers, who produced less in contributions than they were paid to raise them. Their contracts have been renegotiated.

The cost of travel ate up more money. McCain travels by private charter, and because he is a stickler for rules, he pays the full cost of such jets. One Republican familiar with the campaign's spending said the cost of moving McCain from state to state amounted to between $250,000 and $300,000 a month.

Nelson loyalists, of whom by then there were many, blamed Davis and Eudy for devising a plan that was out of whack with reality.

One campaign source said Nelson, who came aboard as campaign manager after the initial budget was drawn up, sought to reduce the projected $154 million figure to a still-lavish $137 million. In early February, in the face of fundraising problems, the budget was reduced to $100 million for the primaries, and further reduced to $78 million in March as the disappointing first-quarter numbers were totaled.

Davis supporters blamed Nelson and Weaver for profligate spending and for mismanaging the day-to-day operations of the campaign. One high-level McCain official said Weaver and Nelson did not act aggressively enough. They made "minor cutbacks" and "figured this to be a fundraising problem, not a problem with the whole model he had for the campaign. They misunderstood the problem."

Nelson considered resigning in the spring, feeling he did not have the full authority to implement changes that he thought were required. Others say Davis complained to Cindy McCain that the team was not effectively managing the budget.

By mid-April, it was clear that something had to change. Nelson and Weaver urged McCain to remove Eudy as finance chief. Later that month, the senator did just that, replacing her with Mary Kate Johnson, a former Bush fundraiser and an ally of Nelson's.

At the same time, at Nelson's urging, McCain shifted Davis's duties to include traveling the country to meet with donors in an attempt to boost fundraising. As some in the campaign saw it, the move was an attempt by Nelson and Weaver to get Davis out of the way.

"He won Round One," said one Nelson supporter.

The political strategists who rode the Straight Talk Express bus with McCain in 2000 referred to their national headquarters in Alexandria as "the Pentagon," a nickname that reflected their disdain for bureaucracy, which they felt could destroy McCain's insurgent bid.

Eight years later, some of those same strategists created a behemoth of a bureaucracy to support McCain's second try at the White House. The top four -- Davis, Nelson, Weaver and Salter -- believed that a competitive campaign required all the tools of a modern operation, otherwise it would be at a disadvantage against former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

"When [McCain] went into the campaign, it was like everyone was going to use the techniques the Bush campaign used in 2004," said one Republican who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

By the middle of the second fundraising quarter, it was clear to those inside the campaign that a mistake had been made. Without an enormous amount of money to fuel the spending, McCain's Bush-like operation was becoming a liability, not an asset.

The only difference between the McCain campaign today and the Reagan campaign after firing John Sears in 1980 is that the Gipper had already lost Iowa by then.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 14, 2007 7:02 AM

I'd like to thank Senator Keating-McCain and his staff of relieving me from having to make the decision next year to not vote for him. Can't vote against someone who ain't gonna be nominated for anything.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at July 14, 2007 11:05 AM

McPain sealed his sorry fate with his support of the Shamnesty Bill with ChappaquiDick Kennedy - after having done the same with Feingold on the issue of free speech. I suspect he won't even be around when the N.H. vote comes in.

Posted by: obc at July 14, 2007 2:20 PM

He'll be the nominee before the race gets to your state.

Posted by: oj at July 14, 2007 2:37 PM

Doubling down, eh?

The media (in their one-note echo chamber) thinks McCain is suffering because he supports the war. We know better.

Reagan had a message and 20+ years of consistency behind him in 1980, and once he grabbed that microphone in NH, the campaign was over.

McCain has no message (beyond fighting the war, which does not distinguish him from Rudy, Fred, or even Mitt at this point), and 20+ years of Potomac fever behind him. His love for Washington and the Beltway media will not win him the nomination.

McCain still doesn't know why he wants to be President. To fill out his resume? To gut the UN? To expand freedom and open government abroad? To kill Mugabe? To rebuild Cuba after Fidel? To bomb Waziristan? To build a 600-ship Navy? To reform SS and Medicare? To crush the AFT and NEA? To eliminate the AMT? To pass another Telecommunications Act? To wear a Presidential jacket on the deck of an aircraft carrier?

Other than his 'seniority', he has no reason to run. This time, that probably won't be enough.

Posted by: jim hamlen at July 14, 2007 3:26 PM

He'll be the nominee before the race gets to your state.

A prediction from the guy who insisted that the Stupid Party will would 60 members in the Senate this year, too. (Although, looking at the current Senate, a name change to The Stupider Party might be in order.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at July 14, 2007 3:48 PM

oj, I think you musta been one of those kids who took years to get over the truth about the Easter Bunny.

You did get over it, right?

Posted by: ras at July 14, 2007 4:44 PM

Doesn't matter if there's an Easter Bunny as long as I get chocolate every year. Every four years the GOP nominates whoever's next in line. That's every nomination in the modern open primary process. Doesn't matter how the egg appears, it's going in Maverick's basket.

Posted by: oj at July 14, 2007 6:15 PM

I believe that OJ also predicted that W would tell the Iraqis "were standing down and beginning our departure"...last fall.

Posted by: Dave W at July 14, 2007 6:16 PM

McCain is Reagan in every particular except gubernatorial vs legislative experience. That's significant as far as the success or failure of their presidencies is concerned, but not as far as getting the GOP nomination.

The Gipper even hand-picked him as a successor.

Posted by: oj at July 14, 2007 6:19 PM

Yes, the failure to do so cost him 20 states in '04 and the congress in '06.

Posted by: oj at July 14, 2007 8:46 PM

Differences? Reagan was a team player. McCain less so. Reagan while 69 compared favorably to Gerald Ford in energy, eloquence. McCain looks considerably older and more feeble compared to his opposition.

I think the later will end his campaign. (or as predicted by David Cohen before it even seriously starts)

Posted by: h-man at July 14, 2007 9:11 PM

Actually, Weaver's departure is a plus, because he was the 'brains' behind McCain's anti-base activities. It might help McCain stop looking offstage for the answer to every question (as happened many times with Weaver).

But McCain does not look good when compared to most of the other competitors. Reagan in 1980 had plenty of energy, plenty of wit, plenty of experience, and he was more naturally comfortable at debates and appearances than Bush or Anderson or Connally. Everything McCain says (apart from the issue of the war in Iraq) seems scripted or directed towards the press. Like a Senator. It won't work, not with Rudy and Romney and Fred in the race.

McCain resembles Gephardt more than anyone else right now - a tired old man who will not finish 1st or 2nd in Iowa. Gephardt had no constituency by the time 2004 came along. McCain faces the same problem today.

Posted by: jim hamlen at July 14, 2007 11:04 PM

Reagan ran against a sitting president of his own party, costing him re-election. He was the worst team player in the recent GOP.

Posted by: oj at July 14, 2007 11:28 PM

No, Reagan energized the GOP and made the election of 1976 a close race. Ford was in no position to win until after the primaries got exciting. Fred Harris or Mo Udall would have beaten him if the election had been in March.

And you forget that Reagan enthusiastically endorsed and campaigned for Ford. I don't remember that from Senator MSNBC in 2000.

Posted by: ratbert at July 15, 2007 2:08 AM

Sure, there were ample reasons for his disloyalty.

Posted by: oj at July 15, 2007 5:49 AM