Allies of John McCain and strategists for other presidential campaigns say the Arizona Republican needs to start taking GOP front-runner Rudy Giuliani down a few pegs, and soon.
"He can't wait much longer," says an adviser to one of the second-tier candidates. "Otherwise, McCain will fall even further behind in the polls, and that will hurt his fund-raising even more."
The talk on the political circuit over the past 24 hours has focused on the candidates' prowess in collecting money during the first quarter of 2007, which ended Saturday. McCain, once considered the dominant GOP candidate, reported raising only $12.5 million, far behind Giuliani's $15 million and Mitt Romney's $21 million. Giuliani has been enjoying a double-digit lead in the polls over McCain, his nearest rival for the Republican nomination.
McCain advisers are well aware of the pressure but insist they won't be pushed into a premature attack strategy The lesser candiates want McCain to do their dirty work for them by pulling Giuliani down so everyone else can move up, McCain advisers say. That also applies to the news media.
"The press wants to see the scrum begin, and I understand that," says a McCain aide. "There will be a higher level of engagement. But that probably won't happen until debate season" this fall.
By Kenneth T. Walsh