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Posted by on Oct 31, 2008 in Politics | 4 comments

McCain’s Financial Resources Choice: TV Campaign Ads Over Ground Game

Amid continued reports that Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama is dominating the airwaves with TV ads — not to mention Obama’s highly-rated 30 minute infomercial recently run on several networks — Republican Sen. John McCain has made a hard choice in his last ditch effort to pull off what by most accounts now would be an upset victory: he is choosing to put rapidly depleting financial resources into TV ads instead of into the get-out-the-vote ground game.

The Washington Post reports this latest twist, which is sure to raise eyebrows among some strategists, particularly given the role of early voting which indicates the number of minds that can be changed a campaign’s final days will be fewer than in past years:

Sen. John McCain and the Republican National Committee will unleash a barrage of spending on television advertising that will allow him to keep pace with Sen. Barack Obama’s ad blitz during the campaign’s final days, but the expenditures will impact McCain’s get-out-the-vote efforts, according to Republican strategists.

Note that in 2000 and 2004 most analysts attributed GOP victories to Karl Rove’s legendary get out the vote machine. Obama is said to use a different approach which is reportedly formidable. So McCain had to choose between being overwhelmed on ads or being overwhelmed on getting supporters out to vote on election day.

McCain has faced a severe spending imbalance during most of the fall, but the Republican nominee squirreled away enough funds to pay for a raft of television ads in critical battleground states over the next four days, said Evan Tracey, a political analyst who monitors television spending.

The decision to finance a final advertising push is forcing McCain to curtail spending on Election Day ground forces to help usher his supporters to the polls, according to Republican consultants familiar with McCain’s strategy.

The vaunted, 72-hour plan that President Bush used to mobilize voters in 2000 and 2004 has been scaled back for McCain. He has spent half as much as Obama on staffing and has opened far fewer field offices. This week, a number of veteran GOP operatives who orchestrate door-to-door efforts to get voters to the polls were told they should not expect to receive plane tickets, rental cars or hotel rooms from the campaign.

Not a good sign…

“The desire for parity on television comes at the expense of investment in paid boots on the ground,” said one top Republican strategist who has been privy to McCain’s plans. “The folks who will oversee the volunteer operation have been told to get out into the field on their own nickel.”

When viewed against the emerging political context, it seems even more problematical for McCain and the GOP.

Reports suggest that early voting in Florida may be favoring the Democrats and some say it could cost McCain the closely-fought state. And, indeed, the AP, looking at the larger political tapestry reports:”Democrats are dominating early voting in six key states President Bush won four years ago, forcing Republican John McCain to play catch-up even before Election Day arrives.”

So it seems this will be catch up on a scaled back budget with big bucks put into lots of ad buys — during a time when a large chunk of voters have already voted and literally can’t be influenced by ads. And during a year when and the Democrats have perhaps their best ground game ever in place — a ground game that needs to be countered on Election Day.