Virginia Republican Party Chairman Jeff Frederick says he knows his state’s historically conservative voters, but that John McCain‘s campaign dismissed his input even as the Republican presidential candidate slid in polls and the state unexpectedly became a battleground.
“They act as if, ‘How could you tell us to change our plan?’” said Mr. Frederick, who had offered advice on how to minimize losses in the state’s liberal-leaning northern region.
Republican Party leaders from several states - including tightly contested, must-win battlegrounds - have begun privately voicing reservations about McCain strategies and the campaign’s failure to return phone calls or respond to suggestions and offers of volunteer support.
“They ignore you. They don’t keep their commitments. And word is that the party has a clock counting down the days till it can throw the McCain people out of state party’s headquarters,” said one state party leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The leaders also question Mr. McCain’s decision to embrace the “$700 billion Wall Street bailout,” which riled voters, and his reluctance to make issues out of his Democratic rival’s relationships with his inflammatory former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., and with Bill Ayers, a 1960s radical and a founder of the violent Weather Underground that was blamed for a series of domestic bombings during the Vietnam era.
Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer agrees that Mr. McCain has had problems within the party, but that Republicans desperately want to unite behind their presidential standard-bearer to stave off a Democrat-run White House and Congress.
“If McCain pulls it off, it will be a rejection of how people see Barack Obama governing the country - his liberal philosophy,” said Mr. Greer, who thinks Mr. McCain will emerge victorious in Florida despite his lagging poll numbers.
Mr. McCain’s campaign rejected the suggestion that it hadn’t tapped the party’s talent.
“Our campaign has aggressively reached out to state parties, county leaders and Republicans across this country to build an impressive grass-roots network and campaign structure,” said McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds.
“We have advisers from target states across this country and are working with hundreds of thousands of volunteers to defeat Barack Obama’s plan for higher taxes and a deeper, more painful economic recession.”
But in Michigan, the McCain campaign, which kept its operations fully segregated from the state Republican Party, decided in early October to pull out its money and organization for deployment elsewhere. McCain operatives gave no warning. Nor did they discuss the pros and cons of the pullout with Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis, who was left millions of dollars in the hole as the state party struggled to support its other Republican candidates.
“The fact they decided to publicly abandon Michigan was one of the dumbest political moves I have ever seen,” Mr. Anuzis told The Washington Times. “The decision to reallocate resources is done all the time, but doing it in a way that generated national network coverage and front-page stories across the country was inexcusable.
“We lost over $8 million in resources and air cover as the campaign redeployed. This had a chilling effect down ticket across the board in Michigan, and we have spent all of our time trying to make up efforts in the most critical races and areas throughout our state.”
Part of the problem is that the Obama campaign is flush with money and the McCain campaign isn’t.
The money squeeze sometimes creates friction. Some state party chairmen complain that donors gave many times more than the campaign has been willing to spend in that state and that McCain volunteers have been told they have to buy their own bumper stickers and yard signs.
In Ohio, long-boiling friction between the McCain campaign and the state Republican Party on a variety of issues reached a new intensity over a complicated local gambling question. The state Republican Party’s central committee had voted to oppose a proposed state constitutional amendment to permit a casino in Clinton County. The state party included its “vote no” view on the “slate card” of recommendations it sends to early voters.
The McCain campaign unilaterally removed that recommendation from the mailer, overriding Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett and threatening to block funds to pay for the printing and distribution. Mr. McCain favors legalized gambling, and his campaign did not want to appear to support it some states and oppose it in others.
The state party worked with the opponents of the amendment to send another mailing, using the pictures of U.S. Sen. George V. Voinovich, Ohio House Speaker Jon Husted and Mr. Bennett, along with their words of opposition on the gambling question.
“Why in the world would anyone want to amend the Constitution of Ohio and put a monopoly in for one individual to build one casino in the state of Ohio?” Mr. Voinovich asks in his statement.
Several party officials said they had no problem with the McCain organization.
“We have a pretty good operation with the McCain campaign in Colorado, and I don’t have the same experiences that a lot of other state chairs do with the campaign,” said state Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams, who thinks his state could “go either way” on Nov. 4.