Pure Horserace: A Campaign Adrift

Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., answers a question during a news conference in Greenville, S.C., Monday, June 25, 2007. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond) AP Photo/Nell Redmond

The departure of several top aides from John McCain's presidential campaign is only going to lead to more questions about the Arizona senator's White House hopes, especially as the news comes so soon after McCain reported raising only $11.2 million in the second quarter of 2007 and having $2 million on hand.

But the top question that many, including perhaps McCain himself, are asking is, "Can this campaign be saved?"

When second-quarter fundraising numbers came out last week, pundits (including us) drew parallels to John Kerry's campaign during 2003, when he was behind Howard Dean in polls and fundraising, but eventually managed to win the nomination. Now, there is another similarity between Kerry and McCain: both parted ways with their campaign managers. Kerry dumped Jim Jordan in October 2003. Now, McCain appears to have done the same with Terry Nelson, along with longtime friend and strategist John Weaver, political director Rob Jesmer and deputy campaign manager Reed Galen.

Unlike Kerry, McCain has more time to recover from this shakeup. But also unlike Kerry, McCain doesn't have many options: He doesn't have a house he can take out a second mortgage on to inject desperately-needed cash. He appears to be considering accepting federal matching funds, which Kerry did not do. But McCain's biggest enemy is the 2008 calendar: Kerry was able to focus all his time, energy and money into winning the Iowa caucuses. After he did, he had time to raise money and deploy staff to key Super Tuesday states.

But in 2008, Super Tuesday will come as little as one week after the New Hampshire primary. Plus, it will be the biggest Super Tuesday in history, by far, and could include over two dozen states.

On paper, almost everything is aligned against McCain. His support of the immigration bill has made conservatives more distrustful of him than ever. His steadfast support of President Bush's policies in Iraq makes him appear unelectable against a Democrat. He has less money than his declared competitors, and one undeclared candidate, Fred Thompson, is sure to raise quite a bit himself.

But while those factors are working against McCain, he can at least claim that there's a lot of time between now and Iowa caucuses. And if he were to somehow win Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — all relatively inexpensive states — the bump would probably be enough to carry him to victory on Super Tuesday, regardless of his financial means. Winning those states, however, will require three things: convincing conservatives that his support for the immigration bill isn't a deal-breaker, improved fortunes in Iraq, and some stumbles from the competition.

Is that possible? Yes. Is it probable? Not at all. And unfortunately for McCain, staff shakeups won't be able to make any of those events come closer to reality. — David Miller


A Victory From The Jaws Of Defeat? While most of the political world began gnawing over the latest shakeup in McCain's campaign, the Arizona senator was on the floor of the Senate making his case against a rising tide of sentiment to start ending U.S. involvement in Iraq soon. For a candidate struggling to right his campaign ship, does it make sense for McCain to continue his staunch support for continuing our involvement in an unpopular war? It just might.

McCain's close association with contentious issues hasn't always served him well in the campaign thus far. In a conference call with reporters last week, his now-departed campaign strategist admitted that the senator's high-profile support for the immigration bill, which was defeated in the Senate, had seriously hampered the campaign's fund-raising efforts. It's also widely seen as one of the core reasons for McCain's drop in most polls, both nationally and in key early states.

But when it comes to the war in Iraq, McCain could at least help to stop the bleeding if not win back some grudging support. Despite their contentious relationship during and after the 2000 campaign, McCain has been one of the biggest supporters of President Bush's policy in Iraq. At times, he has been harshly critical of the way the war has been conducted, but McCain remains supportive of the overall policy and today urged colleagues to give the troop surge more time to work.

With several key Republicans senators having voiced doubts about the strategy of late, and few signs of tangible progress at stemming the violence in Iraq, there are growing signals that the war has reached a political tipping point. But, with Democratic leaders and presidential candidates rushing in with proposals and arguments to begin withdrawing troops soon, McCain could become the voice of the opposition in the debate.

Polls show that the majority of Republicans, and more importantly for McCain, Republican primary voters, still support the war by some measures. Even if GOP voters begin to see a withdrawal as a given, they're hardly likely to embrace the plans being put forward by Democratic leaders. None of the GOP candidates have broken with Bush on the war but of the entire field, John McCain is most directly tied to the issue.

In the same way his close association with the immigration debate hurt his candidacy, McCain may get a boost if he becomes the standard bearer fighting the Democrats on Iraq and it may help him regain some of his campaign footing among core GOP activists who want to see the party put up a fight. Iraq is going to be a difficult issue for any eventual GOP nominee and in a general election, and McCain might find it harder than most. But first things first. — Vaughn Ververs


Win Iowa By Leaving Iowa? John Edwards' campaign has said that even though they're losing the money primary to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, they have maintained the lead in the "idea primary" thanks to Edwards' continued focus on poverty, rural America, and middle-class voters.

And it appears Edwards truly believes his advocacy on those issues will lead him to electoral success — he's taking time off the traditional campaign trail to visit the Gulf Coast, Appalachia and the Rust Belt as part of the "Road to One America" tour, which, according to the campaign, will "highlight the new faces of poverty in America."

The tour comes even after Edwards said winning Iowa — a state not on the tour — is a key part of his strategy, hoping that a victory there will cause an "avalanche" of support that will lead him to the Democratic nomination.

"The winner of Iowa, certainly if they win Iowa and Nevada, they're going to go roaring into New Hampshire with huge momentum," Edwards told Bloomberg Television's Al Hunt. "Somebody who wins Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire," Edwards explained, "is extraordinarily likely to be the nominee."

Edwards' campaign manager, former Rep. David Bonior, said that while the tour may have some political value, that was not the point. The aim, Bonior explained, is "restoring hope to rural America" and focusing on workers' rights, increasing the minimum wage, and labor law enforcement.

Bonior acknowledged that no early-voting states would be on the tour, but said that doesn't mean voters in those states won't be paying attention. He said Iowans "care about these issues as well. They can be part of the … solution to some of these problems."

Edwards currently leads or is tied with Hillary Clinton in Iowa. However, like his fundraising, he has been stuck in third place when it come to national polls. Edwards' reported $9 million in earnings in the second quarter of fundraising, well below Obama's $32.5 million and Clinton's $27 million.

The tour will begin next Monday in New Orleans before heading to Mississippi, Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, taking Edwards into smaller towns afflicted by low wages and stagnant local economies. Edwards hopes to show, however, that these issues are national, and hopes that Iowans, in particular, will take notice. — Whitney Smith


Editor's note: Pure Horserace is a daily update of political news as interpreted by the political observers at CBSNews.com. Click here to sign up for the e-mail version.
By David Miller, Vaughn Ververs and Whitney Smith
  • David Miller

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