Friday, August 15, 2008

Sen. John McCain has so much spare cash on hand — he collected a record $27 million in July — that the Republican candidate plans to run campaign ads during the networks’ coverage of the Democratic National Convention later this month.

Because Mr. McCain has agreed to accept $84 million in public financing for the general election, the presumptive presidential nominee has only until Sept. 4, when he accepts his party’s nomination, to spend the more than $21 million he has on hand.

“We continue to have record months of fundraising. This is now the fifth month in a row that we have exceeded the month before,” said McCain campaign manager Rick Davis. The candidate’s advertising budget for August is expected to exceed $20 million, he said, and, by the Republican convention, Mr. McCain is on track to spend some $60 million on TV advertising during the whole primary campaign.

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Political strategists said airing ads during an opponent’s convention makes sense.

“McCain now has enough financial resources to break tradition and advertise during the opposition’s convention week,” said Republican strategist Scott Reed, who was campaign manager for former Sen. Bob Dole in his 1996 presidential run.

“The McCain camp is building a case about Obama’s ability to lead and needs to keep the pressure on his weakness with voters.”

Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh said the McCain campaign’s strategy illustrates just how much presidential campaigns have changed. In past contests, one candidate went quiet while the other had his convention, and the strategist said she can’t remember a candidate ever airing ads during the other’s party convention.

“The ads are less an effort to get votes than make a point and get it covered by the national media while Obama has the attention of the nation,” she said. “No doubt the Obama campaign will do the same now.”

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign was staying mum on whether it would follow suit during the Republican convention.

“We don’t have a comment,” spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee (RNC), which can spend money right up until Election Day, pulled in $26 million in July and now has $75 million on hand.

And despite media reports to the contrary, President Bush continues to be a fundraising juggernaut, having brought in $70 million for the RNC already this year and expected to bring in tens of millions more before Nov. 4. “When it comes to requests for the president to fundraise for Republican candidates, supply can’t keep up with demand,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said Friday.

The McCain campaign, which almost fell apart last summer and had months of dismal fundraising receipts, was pleased with last month’s tally.

“We will start the general election fully flush,” Mr. Davis said.

The Democratic National Committee, which had just $20 million on hand in June, plans to release its July totals Saturday. Mr. Obama also is expected to have collected tens of millions. In June, for instance, Mr. McCain raised $21 million, while Mr. Obama raised more than twice that $52 million.

Not counting July, Mr. Obama has raised a total of about $340 million to Mr. McCain’s $140 million.

But Mr. McCain’s once lackluster fundraising has changed dramatically. He is keeping pace and may even exceed his Democratic rival in advertising spending, including $6 million during the ultra-expensive Olympics and more millions for three straight months of commercials in 11 battleground states.

Mr. Davis pegged the advertising budget for September, October and the first few days of November at more than $100 million including both the McCain team’s publicly-financed campaign and similar spending by the RNC.

Mr. McCain released two new TV ads on Friday in key states, including one in which he criticizes Mr. Obama on taxes. “Celebrity? Yes. Ready to lead? No,” the ad says, with the Democrats’ name chanted in the background and pictures of him before adoring crowds. The commercial claims that “Obama’s new taxes could break your family budget,” and would mean “higher prices at the pump.”

Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan said: “This ad is just more of the same old, false and discredited attacks that Senator McCain knows aren’t true.”

Mr. McCain also debuted an ad to run in Ohio, a battleground state, called “Maybe.”

“Maybe the applause has gone to his head, saying John McCain cost Ohio jobs, though it’s just not true,” the narrator says.

“It’s Obama’s taxes that will hurt Ohio families. Higher taxes on your paycheck, your life savings, your electric bills. That’s the real Obama. Ready to tax. Not ready to lead.”

Mr. Obama, who claims 2 million donors to his campaign, has rejected public financing for the general election, the first major-party presidential candidate to do so. The Illinois senator has been spending robustly on television ads. In addition to a positive spot running during the Olympics, the Democrat is running several tough attacks on Mr. McCain’s economic plan. He also is running state-specific ads.

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