December 27, 2008

The litany of McCain errors - Part 1

Firstly, let me say that by no means do I regard a review of the errors of John McCain's presidential bid as focusing on the past. Looking at what went wrong is crucial when planning for 2012, to ensure we don't make the same mistakes. In effect, getting it right next time means learning from those* mistakes. That is not to say that McCain did nothing right. He did a few things right, but I'll save that for another time.

Secondly, this analysis does not take into account many of the positions McCain took that flew in the face of the conservative base. McCain, clearly from a conservative standpoint, committed a number of errors with regards to policy positions. The list is pretty lengthy. The Gang of 14, border security, and the environment being ones that come to mind. And that may have had some dampening effect on conservative voter turnout or turned some of it to Barr. But that's not the reason for his loss on November 4th. He made a number of tactical errors, that with the advantage of time, will become more clear. Still, time is a luxury the GOP cannot afford. The political world is moving faster and the next election cycle has already begun. The extent to which I can't say. But this is not the focus of my analysis. I'm interested in looking at how the campaign was managed and run.

Thirdly, these are speciically campaign 2008 mistakes, not mistakes he's made as a Senator in the past.

As I've mentioned before, I think conservatives do a disservice to themselves by focusing on "what do we stand for?" rather than "how do we win?". We have a set of core principles we need to get back to, but doing so only straightens out the GOP (hopefully), it does nothing to ensure victory. It helps to be right on the issues, but the battle is won with the weapons you choose to use and how you choose to fight.

In 5 main categories, John McCain failed to deliver or capitalize on what was required for victory. Let's look at these in turn and see if we can't make sure we get them right next time around.

(1) Money
(2) Demographics
(3) Strategy
(4) Consistent message and 'brand' image.
(5) Communication.


President-elect Obama raised $742 million and spent $712 million. When you compare that to John McCain, who raised $367 million and spent $326 million, there is a telling difference. Obama raised twice as much and spent 218% of what Senator McCain spent. Right out of the gate Obama guaranteed himself more money. Well, McCain helped make sure of that by pledging to stick to the federal fundraising limits he felt compelled to support. That he did that was at least consistent but strategically foolish.

However, it's not just about the money raised. It's also about how smartly that money gets spent. Let's assume the messages were equally effective (a poor assumption but good for making my point), then in order to overcome Obama's monetary advantage, McCain would have to be twice as smart strategically about how and where his money got spent. You can overcome a financial disadvantage by having a better strategy. But McCain started with such a disadvantage he had to be near-perfect in the execution of advertising placement.

Perfection was not evident from the McCain camp. Before we even get to where the money was spent, compare these numbers. Obama spent 57.2% of his expenditures on media buys, McCain 38.2%. The disadvantage grows beyond 2 to 1 and gets closer to 3 to 1. Obama's campaign administrative expenses were 24.2% of his expenditures and McCain's were 26.7%. But McCain was the smaller guy in terms of budget. Wasn't it Avis who said "We're number two so we try harder"? McCain didn't have the luxury of being as inefficient as his opponent. Yet he was.
Wasn't McCain supposed to be running a lean, decentralized campaign? According to Marc Armbinder that was the plan. Yes he spent $60 million less than Obama, but it wasn't lean and efficient enough. Every dollar of the McCain campaign that wasn't diverted to advertising and media was a lost dollar to Obama.

According to Karl Rove,

A state-by-state analysis confirms the Obama advantage. Mr. Obama outspent Mr. McCain in Indiana nearly 7 to 1, in Virginia by more than 4 to 1, in Ohio by almost 2 to 1 and in North Carolina by nearly 3 to 2. Mr. Obama carried all four states. Mr. Obama also used his money to outmuscle Mr. McCain on the ground, with more staff, headquarters, mail and a larger get-out-the-vote effort. In mid-September the Obama campaign said its budget for Florida was $39
million. The actual number was probably larger.

But in any case, Mr. McCain spent a mere $13.1 million in the state. Mr. Obama won Florida by 2.81 percentage points. Mr. McCain was outspent by wide margins in every battleground state. But it would have been worse for him if RNC Chairman Mike Duncan and Finance Chairman Elliott Broidy hadn't stockpiled funds in 2007 and early 2008. The RNC provided nearly half the funds for the GOP's combined general-election campaign, while the DNC provided less than a tenth of the funds that benefited Mr. Obama.

To sum up;

  • The federal funding barn door has been opened. Don't play by the rules that Senator McCain endorsed because there is an option to opt out of that route. Sticking to federal matching funds is a competitive disadvantage that is no longer a viable option.
  • Raising money needs to be done as early as possible so that during the home stretch, efforts can be concentrated effectively spending the war chest not building it
  • The vast majority RNC money should be used for other purposes than a cash-strapped Presidential nominee. The number of local races that could have used that money is substantial. McCain not only lost the Presidential race, his dependence on the RNC likely cost Republicans Senate and Congressional seats. Norm Coleman could have probably used an extra $250,000 very effectively.
  • When it comes to spending money, concentrate your efforts where they need to be concentrated. Find a winning strategy and do not deviate from it in terms of targeting and therefore, spending.
*those mistakes are attributable to the McCain team, not just John McCain.

Part 2 on Demographics will follow tomorrow.

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