Republicans attuned to conservative third-party efforts say that with less than two weeks to go until Election Day, the prospects for any 11th-hour, anti-Obama ad campaigns are highly unlikely.
Many in the party, including inside the McCain campaign, have held out hope that a deep-pocketed benefactor would emerge to bankroll ads in the campaign's final days — spots that might, for example, resurrect the most incendiary clips from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
But thanks largely to lack of passion for McCain within the conservative base, diminished hopes that he can win and a sharp decline in the stock market that has badly pinched donors' pockets, veteran Republican operatives say it appears almost certain that what could be the most damaging line of attack against the Democratic nominee will be left on the shelf.
"It's Oct. 21, and if you can't say it by Oct. 21, then chances are you're not going to say anything," said Chris LaCivita, the strategist behind the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004. LaCivita has been working for a new conservative third-party group this year, the American Issues Project.
That group, known in the political community as AIP, was eyed by some in the GOP as a potential major player in taking on Obama. It spent nearly $3 million in key states in August on a tough ad tying the Illinois senator to '60s-era domestic terrorist William Ayers and promised additional spots in the fall campaign.
That never happened.
"Donors just weren't willing to give the money," explains LaCivita. "They were hurt badly in the market crash and they were always concerned about how McCain would react."
The timing of the financial crisis couldn't have been worse for Republicans. When Lehman Brothers went under on Sept. 15, McCain was tied or in the margin of error in national polls. But when his poll numbers fell along with the stock market, wealthy conservatives saw little reason to invest their shrunken holdings on what was far from a sure thing.
"Republican donors, at the end of day, aren't stupid," said another Republican familiar with third-party activities this cycle. "They're not going to throw good money after bad."
And it wasn't just the economic bad news — McCain did little to help his own cause.
Two Republican sources involved in third-party groups said the Arizona senator's second debate performance in early October, a pivotal moment in the campaign when he and running mate Sarah Palin had begun to ratchet up their attacks, was deflating to some donors.
These sources said that after McCain didn't use the Nashville debate to aggressively go after Obama, one prominent conservative financier remarked: "I'm not going to bother investing anymore."
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
"They're not going to throw good money after bad."
This Yahoo! story provides a companion piece to the Slate analysis I mentioned in my previous post. Here's a sample: