As the Democrats continue to bite and scratch each other in the battle for their party's nomination, the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, has a different sort of battle to fight—staying in the spotlight.
"He's not hot right now," says Christopher Hull, an adjunct assistant government professor at Georgetown University. "Barack Obama is, and the fight between Hillary and Barack is, and the money is flowing to the Democratic side."
In order to prevent his campaign from being sucked into a media black hole, McCain has been traveling internationally and around the country to deliver carefully worded policy speeches. "The Democrats are dominating everybody's paper, and he needs to fill the Republican gap by doing things," says James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. McCain traveled to Europe and Iraq. This week he visited California, Colorado, and Texas. And next week he will begin a "Service to America" tour, a cross-country trip touting his biography by visiting places that hold significance in his life. "It is not like a hard-hitting campaign; it's carefully structured to make him look presidential," Thurber says.
Though specific details will be released tomorrow, the Service for America tour will take him from Mississippi to Virginia to Florida and through his home state of Arizona. "From a procedural standpoint at the campaign, it's important to introduce Senator McCain to the wider audience of the general electorate and to provide a context to the character traits that make him uniquely qualified to lead," said McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds.
Recently, the GOP senator has been up slightly in the polls in head-to-head match-ups with the quarreling Democratic candidates, even after his gaffe of mistakenly blaming Iran for training al Qaeda. With the current political climate skewed Democratic for reasons ranging from President Bush's dismal approval ratings to the number of voters identifying themselves as Republicans, the phenomenon of McCain's upward gain is attributable to two very basic things, says Hull.
"John McCain is a good brand," he says. "If you ask people, 'Do you support John McCain or X Democrat?' more people would support John McCain." The other factor: the messy and divisive Democratic race. "On the other side, the Democrats are doing each other harm," Hull says. In a Gallup Poll released Wednesday, 28 percent of Hillary Clinton supporters said they would drift to McCain if she doesn't get the nomination, and 19 percent of Obama supporters said they would vote for the Republican if the senator from Illinois didn't clinch it. This revelation certainly doesn't bode well for Democratic Party unity.
But doing well in the polls doesn't mean everything. Traditionally, the Republicans have had an edge in fundraising and the Democrats have had an edge in grass-roots support. This year, Democrats have a definitive edge in grass-roots support, thanks to their elongated primary season. Because of the hot race, the Democrats have amassed a crew of volunteers in Ohio and Pennsylvania—two key battleground states—they can call back up for the general election. The GOP battle, on the other hand, was short and sweet. "He really had it pretty easy; it's really an amazing story—the Phoenix rising out of the ashes," says Thurber. "He didn't need to be really organized in many states."
But now the Republican candidate is also way behind in fundraising. In February alone, Barack Obama brought in $56.8 million, and Hillary Clinton brought in $35.8 million. McCain received $11.6 million from his supporters. To make up for this, McCain needs to raise money— lots of it. Like Obama, who is raffling off a dinner for donations, McCain, among other things, is offering one lucky supporter a seat on his now well-known campaign tour bus, the "Straight Talk Express," for donating $50 or more to the campaign by the important Federal Election Commission filing deadline of March 31.