Advisers to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters Friday that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) will get a sharp bounce in the polls that could last most of the summer, but they said Republicans have built a muscular campaign that can prevail in a brutal political environment.
“We’re not the Obama campaign — and don’t NEED to be,” said one PowerPoint slide showing during a during a 100-minute strategy briefing aimed at reassuring donors and supporters while rebutting press skepticism about McCain’s campaign structure.
The briefing was designed to show both that the campaign had made substantial progress since McCain clinched the nomination in March, and that he has a way to win even though Republicans are facing the most toxic electoral environment since Watergate.
Charlie Black, a McCain senior adviser who is among the best-known figures in Republican politics, said he expects Obama will “probably get a record bounce” now that he has clinched his party’s nomination.
“His nomination is historic, and he’s going to get incredibly favorable press for a week or maybe two,” Black said. “As long as we’re out there and we are getting covered and we’re drawing differences on issues, which is a big part of our campaign, we can bring the bounce back into reach late in the summer.”
The poll warnings are in part of matter of setting expectations, preparing supporters and avoiding the demoralization that could come from the big jump.
Campaign manager Rick Davis said that fundraising has improved dramatically each month and that the discipline of restricting the campaign’s growth this spring means more money for television and turnout later.
“I wouldn’t anticipate anybody else copying the way we’ve tried to either win a nomination or this election,” Davis said. “I highly encourage a different plan. But the reality is that every election is different, and we’ve tried not to get too hung up on convention. And I promise we’re not doing this just to be different.”
By the end of the month, McCain’s staff will reach 250, double its size two months ago. That lean team is facing an Obama juggernaut that has a staff of 800 and — in a role reversal from Democrats in past campaigns — is likely to have much more money to spend on technology, advertising and voter turnout.
And Obama aides tell Politico they are expanding and restructuring their communications and rapid-response operations in order to be able to handle the aggressive GOP message apparatus.
The aides acknowledged their operation will also be smaller than Bush-Cheney ’04, President Bush’s $300 million, state-of-the-art reelection machine.
But they said post-election research by the Republican National Committee had showed ways to be more efficient: For instance, people who vote every year might not need as many mailings and phone calls as they got from Bush-Cheney.
The campaign says that by the end of June, McCain will have offices in 17 states and 76 “victory centers” operated with the Republican National Committee. By the fall, he’ll have 94 regional and state campaign staffers, along with 193 “victory centers” staffed by 419 folks.
The campaign said that McCain’s appeal to Democrats, independents and the center would give him a chance in five or six states where Republicans don’t traditionally campaign, including Oregon.
A clue to the campaign’s map theory is the list of 11 states where he’s opening regional headquarters with regional campaign managers: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio and Virginia.
Arizona is hardly a swing state, but it's in place of New Hampshire, since McCain has a strong volunteer base there and is expected to be in the Grand Cayon State every other weekend.
Black’s favorite slide in the deck was one showing that Obama is “perceived as outside the mainstream” and that voters see McCain as more closely tracking their own ideology. He said that will help McCain erase that big Obama lead in polls.
“Eventually, when you hit different issues and compare them on it, people eventually come back to thinking this through,” Black said. “The country’s still a slightly right-of-center country. They think McCain’s slightly right of center, and they think Obama’s way off to the left.”
McCain aides have been exceedingly frustrated by what they consider coddling of Obama by the media, and the campaign has struggled to get news coverage during the three months that the Democratic fight continued after the Republican had sealed his nomination.
“Today in The Washington Post, they had John McCain’s name on the front page — before you got to A25,” Davis said jokingly. “A week ago, we wouldn’t have even gotten that. I’m talking about progress.
Davis joked that the type of story that would get his campaign good press would be: “How much does McCain really adore Barack Obama in his quiet moments when no one else is around?”
Davis said a good campaign “is reflective of the candidate” and that he has designed a winning campaign tailored to McCain’s sensibilities.
The regional, decentralized structure has been widely second-guessed. Davis said that the regional managers will help determine where McCain will visit when he’s in their areas, so that he gets out of the large population centers and into the suburbs, exurbs and rural areas where he can really help.
The regions will have their own scheduling, communications, advance and surrogate operations. The message and budget, of course, will be controlled from headquarters.
“I look at our candidate, and I see the kinds of ways he likes to operate and the things he believes are best. And that is: Things that are most effective are closer to the people,” Davis said. “He doesn’t like big headquarters operations. He thinks that breeds lethargy or sort of a stranglehold on activity.”