High Noon for McCain and Thompson

September 29, 2007

How the third quarter fudraising figures could be a make or break situation for both John McCain and Fred Thompson

The publication of Q3 quarter fundraising figures are always eagerly anticipated by political junkies, consultants and bettors. These are important both because money enables candidates to run an effective campaign but also as a gauge of their credibility. Although they are important for all candidates in both parties they are particularly vital for both Fred Thompson and John McCain. In the case of Thompson they are important because he needs to show that his delayed start has not damaged his status as the most credible challenger to Giuliani. Poor, or even middling figures, will start to increase the questions surrounding his commitment to the contest and his ability to win over the conservative wing of the Republican party. Although he has been catching up with Giuliani in the pollster.com analysis of national polls they have stopped increasing in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Poor fundraising figures could also tempt Gingrich into the contest, a move which would hurt Thompson more than any other candidate.

For McCain the problem is more immediate as his campaign is desperately short of cash. While the amount of money necessary to compete is not as big as has been supposed – after all Jesse Jackson managed to win a string of Democrat primaries in 1988 with a campaign that was essentially run out of a plane – anything other than stellar figures will be serious blow. However, there is silver lining in that a result that is bad – but just enough to leave him standing – might force him to reassess his strategy of moving to the right on domestic policy and might enable him to stop apologising for his last eight years in the Senate and run the sort of hacking slashing semi-populist candidacy that won him support from independants and nearly propelled him to the nomination, in 2000.

Indeed, the reason that McCain is still a viable candidate is because he has stood up for the foreign policy that he believes in – even when other in his party were losing their nerve and disassociating them-selves from it. Of course this doesn’t have to follow at all and poor fundraising figures could make him even more dependent on Rick Davis and even more inclined to compromise his beliefs to try to win acceptance from the angry wing of the Republican Party. He could also quit the primaries completely, though the fact that he has only a Senate race in 2010 (which has been made competitive by his compromises) suggests that he will stay in the race until the bitter end. There are also ominous signs that, not only are Giuliani and Thompson circling his supporters like vultures, looking to pick up his remaining supporters with protestation that, ‘if they were not candidates, they’d have supported him’, but even Bill Clinton is now following in their wake, suggesting that the battle over McCain’s bones (and remaining supporters), if it occurs, will be wide ranging.

So how should McCain and Thompson react if their numbers are bad? They will both need to use them to spur their respective campaigns, in Thompson’s case to get out and prove that he is really another Ronald Regan and in McCain’s case to show that he hasn’t abandoned his reform crusade. More specifically they both need to get in the face of their opponents, Thompson needs to attack Giuliani from the right, while McCain needs to put previous friendships aside and go after Thompson for his history as a lobbyist and as a personification of those who make a business, rather than a cause, out of fighting the culture wars. McCain also needs to make a public break with the special interest groups over either taxes or immigration, reminding the rest of the party that fiscal restraint applies to pie in the sky tax cut proposals as well as public spending.

In any case both McCain and Thompson are, ‘doomed to live in interesting times’, although whether that is a curse or a blessing will become apparent very soon.


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