- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 7, 2008

With his Democratic foe now certain, Republican Sen. John McCain is deploying dozens of staffers into battleground states, boasting of improved fundraising and expanding his advertising into some of the most competitive terrain of the general election.

“I’m running for president to keep the country I love safe,” the Arizona senator says in a new commercial unveiled Friday. The ad was the start of what the campaign said would be a sustained effort to spread Mr. McCain’s message in Electoral College targets between now and the fall.

As Sen. Barack Obama sewed up the Democratic nomination this week, Mr. McCain’s team plunged into the general election. The Republican made his opening argument for the next phase of the presidential campaign in a speech Tuesday in which he tried to distance himself from the unpopular President Bush while arguing that Mr. Obama offers change that would imperil the country.

At the same time, the campaign made several moves over the past few days as it gears up to face Mr. Obama and enthusiastic Democrats in a treacherous political environment for Republicans.

Organizationally, Mr. McCain’s 10 regional campaign managers were in place across the country — and building up their staff — as of Sunday, and the Republican National Committee (RNC) named nine field directors a day later. By the end of the month, the McCain-RNC political operation plans to be running in 17 states, with 76 “Victory Centers,” 94 regional and state campaign staffers and 145 RNC staffers.

Overall, campaign advisers say the joint political team will number some 500 people. They are dismissing the grumbling of some Republicans that perhaps the campaign has been too slow to increase its organization and, perhaps, squandered its three-month head start while the Democratic primary continued. Mr. McCain wrapped up the Republican nomination in March.

Financially, Mr. McCain and the RNC also reported significant fundraising.

Mr. McCain has held dozens of fundraisers across the country over the past three months, including three in Florida this week. They were closed to the media, a campaign policy that conflicts with Mr. McCain’s claim to be the most transparent and accessible presidential candidate in history, as well as with his crusade against the influence of money in politics.

At the end of May, Mr. McCain and the RNC raised a combined $45 million and had a total of $85 million cash on hand. Mr. Obama has been a prolific fundraiser and had $46.5 million on hand at the end of April (he has not announced his May fundraising). But the Democratic National Committee has not done as well fundraising, collecting nearly $5 million in May and ending the month with $4 million in the bank.

“We’re not being outraised by hundreds of millions of dollars this month or last month,” said Rick Davis, Mr. McCain’s campaign manager.

Still, with Mr. Obama as the titular head of the Democratic Party, the national committee is now likely to see its fundraising improve dramatically.

On advertising, Mr. McCain has been on the air intermittently in eight battleground states for two months as he tested potential themes at a $3.7 million cost. But the latest effort is much more expansive, with ads running in 54 markets in 10 states. The campaign called it a significant buy though refused to disclose the cost. Since Monday, the campaign has spent nearly $1 million in four states, and one Republican estimated the new buy cost several million dollars.

“We don’t anticipate coming down now until Election Day,” Mr. Davis said. He said the campaign will stay on the air in the 10 states as long as they remain competitive, and he said he anticipates adding more states and more markets as the campaign moves forward.

Six are states Mr. Bush narrowly won in 2004 — Colorado, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico and Ohio — and that Mr. McCain must defend. Four are states Democrat John Kerry won by slim margins four years ago — Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — and that Mr. McCain is looking to win.

Other potential Democratic-held targets for Mr. McCain’s campaign include Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Oregon and Washington. While Mr. McCain often talks about competing in California, Mr. Davis said the campaign was “probably not going to commit a lot in resources” to the state.

At the same time, Mr. McCain likely will have to spend money in the coming months defending Republican Party turf in Florida and Virginia, and may even be forced to devote resources to longtime Republican strongholds Mr. Obama is considering making a play for — like Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana or North Carolina.

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