A campaign that is underfunded and under-organized should have only one preoccupation: maximize free media. Holding as many events is the only way to increase coverage in the local press and counter your opponent’s financial ability to control the airwaves war.
This is why it was so striking to read in today’s Wall Street Journal that the McCain campaign has managed to under-perform even in this department! Since the end of the GOP convention, John McCain, Cindy McCain and Sarah Palin have held a combined 56 events in contested states, versus 95 for the Obamas and Joe Biden - a huge discrepancy in just 5 weeks of campaigning, and one that has important consequences in the amount of media coverage each side gets.
This is due to the fact that Cindy does not campaign by herself the way Michelle does and to the fact that McCain and Palin have been holding much more joint rallies than Obama and Biden. Sure, that has helped McCain draw much bigger crowds than he was before he announced his vice-presidential pick, but it also means that the GOP ticket is covered in one media market instead of two.
This does not even account for the fact that Democrats have two surrogates - Bill and Hillary Clinton - that are now actively hitting the campaign trail and that are sure to draw heavy coverage wherever they travel. Republicans have no one with equivalent star power who can increase their ticket’s reach. Yesterday, the Clintons held a joint event with Joe Biden in Scranton, but they also headline events on their own. Today, Hillary made news in Philadelphia while Biden is in New Hampshire and Obama is in Ohio.
In other words, the McCain campaign is being outworked in television advertisements because of finances and in the amount of free media coverage it earns.
To make matters worse, the GOP ticket now has finally come to realize it has to play defense in the red states it had been neglecting for the past few months and where only Obama has been visible for months, both because of sustained media buys and because of a heavy schedule of campaign events. McCain is appearing in North Carolina for the first time since May today, as he holds an event in eastern North Carolina, a region with conservative Democrats - the very constituency that has shifted towards Obama since the financial crisis erupted. Meanwhile, Sarah Palin has been dispatched to Indiana, a state neither she or McCain have visited since the Arizona Senator held an event on July 1st (even that event was a speech at a national conference rather than an rally targeted at Indiana).
However, and contrary to prior reports, Palin is not scheduled to hold an event in West Virginia. Given that recent polls show a tight race in what was expected to be a safe McCain state, it is possible that the McCain campaign be forced to organize some emergency measures in the state, but West Virginia is unlikely to fall without neighboring states. For Obama to prevail here would mean that he has taken care of his weaknesses among culturally conservative Democrats, blue collar workers and Appalachia residents to such an extent that he would be likely to win Ohio, Pennsylvania and perhaps even North Carolina.
With the GOP ticket now forced to defend an increasing number of vulnerable red states, you would think they would finally have given up on Iowa, a state that fell out of contention months ago - but you would be wrong. Not only is the McCain campaign staying on the airwaves and has yet to divert its staff out of the Hawkeye State, but the campaign has sent out one of the toughest mailers to pop up anywhere in the country. It accuses Democrats and Obama of neglecting Iowa while it was flooded this spring.
Finally, the Atlanta Journal Constitution gives us a useful reminder that the registration numbers we have bee parsing over the past week or two are not yet final and that the Democrats’ gains could still come out to be slightly larger than what they are now being reported. The registration deadline was October 6th in most states, but in many localities the amount of registration forms that were sent in the final days if not on the last Monday were so large that many offices have yet to process thousands of registration forms.
Meanwhile, in other news from battleground states:
- Time observes the ground game in Virginia and highlights differences between the two campaigns.
- The Denver Post goes to great length to explore why Colorado is a toss-up. Though the latest polls show Obama building an advantage, it is still a worthwhile story on the state’s dynamics.
- The Saint Petersburg Times provides more anecdotal evidence that the economic crisis is shifting the votes of the blue-collar electorate by taking a detailed look at Scranton. In other news from Pennsylvania, the New York Times confirms that college campuses are Obama territory.
- Salon wonders what happened to North Carolina - a question I think many of us have been asking ourselves for the past few months.