John McCain, the Republican Senator from Arizona, may be in trouble, and there is still more than a year and a half remaining before the November 2008 elections. McCain has long been considered the Republican front-runner, but recent months may have put to rest that mantle, at least for now. While there is certainly a lot of time yet before the first set of primary elections, McCain can’t be happy at recent indicators.
First are the polls. Although McCain still out-polls Democrats he could potentially face in a general election, such as New York Senator Hillary Clinton or Illinois Senator Barack Obama (although some recent polling shows Obama has pulled even with, or even passed, the Senator from Arizona), McCain does not fare so well against other Republican challengers. In fact, McCain’s biggest problem in winning the upcoming election may not come from Democrats, but Republican voters who distrust the former POW.
McCain has long been labeled a “maverick” by the press, mainly for his willingness to go out on his own. These endeavors often conflict with mainline Republican desires. One example was McCain’s willingness to co-sponsor the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bills. Another example was McCain’s recent membership in the so-called “Gang of 14” that eventually allowed Democrats to effectively stifle President Bush’s conservative judicial nominees in the name of party harmony. It is no surprise, then, that McCain is often viewed as a RINO (Republican In Name Only), and that he polls poorly among conservative Republican voters, in spite of his otherwise conservative credentials and strong support of President Bush and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
That dissatisfaction many Republicans feel toward McCain has led to a steady downward slide in the polls. As recently as January, McCain was within striking distance of Rudy Giuliani, former New York City Mayor, in Rasmussen Polling. Three months ago, the two polled at 30% and 22%, but those numbers have gone up for Giuliani and down for McCain. The current gap between the two, 36%-16%, is as large as it has been this year.
The second reason McCain may be feeling the crunch this election cycle is in the pocketbook. Although McCain earned more than $12.5 million in the first quarter of this year, he spent more than $7.3 million, and is also carrying roughly $1.8 million in debt. He has recently cut back on his campaign staff and promotional spending. And although that $12.5 million is a large amount of money, it still lags in third place behind former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who raised about $21 million, and Rudy Giuliani, who raised slightly more than McCain, pulling in around $14 million in the first quarter. Each of those candidates still has more than $10 million on hand, compared to the roughly $5 million McCain has in his campaign coffers.
McCain has also not been able to get the big-money donors to join his camp. Although he received donations from around 50,000 individuals, McCain only averaged $250 per contribution. Compare that to Gov. Romney, whose 32,000 donations averaged well over $600 per contribution, or Giuliani, whose 28,000 contributions averaged roughly $500 for the former Mayor of New York City.
If there is a silver lining in all this, it is that McCain seems to be building a larger base of support, which could lead to more contributions at a later date. At this point, however, with Giuliani’s lead still strong, and all candidates losing support due to a potential entrance into the race by former Tennessee Senator and current television actor Fred Thompson, only time will tell.