McCain scales back Florida staff; Sen. John McCain pulled at least six people off his 2008 campaign in Florida, a sign the primary might cater only to deep-pocketed candidates. CAMPAIGN 2008
Source: The Miami Herald 07/06/2007
A cash crunch has forced Republican John McCain to gut his presidential campaign in Florida, an early sign that only a few, extremely flush contenders will be able to compete in a state hosting one of the nation's first primaries.
Supporters of moving Florida's primary from mid-March to Jan. 29 had argued the change would bring a presidential ground game to a state traditionally viewed as a stopover for raising money to be spent elsewhere. But McCain's retrenchment suggests most of the field will continue to focus on earlier, smaller states where their limited resources can go much farther.
While a scrappy candidate can potentially make headway in New Hampshire living rooms and Iowa coffee shops, a television run in the nation's fourth-largest state costs more than $1 million a week.
''Moving up the presidential primary in Florida certainly gives it more attention than other states, but the path to the presidency still leads through Iowa and New Hampshire,'' said Justin Sayfie, a top Florida fundraiser for President Bush.
Florida will still have a bigger say than in past primaries, in which the nominees were foregone conclusions by the time voters went to the polls, said state Rep. David Rivera of Miami, who sponsored the early-primary bill. Mixed results in the earliest states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada could make Florida a decisive step on the way to the nomination.
Battered over his support for the war and a controversial immigration overhaul, McCain announced this week that he has only $2 million in the bank -- a pittance by the standards of a modern-day national race.
McCain laid off dozens of staff members across the country, including his regional press secretary responsible for Florida and other states. A Miami consulting firm, the campaign's state coordinator, and the assistant to the finance director are off the Florida payroll, leaving only McCain's finance director. A political director for Florida and other southeastern states moved to South Carolina full time.
''It seems as if they are moving their resources out of Florida and refocusing them on smaller, early states,'' said consultant Carlos Curbelo, who helped organize McCain's visits to Miami.
His chief rivals, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, have nearly a dozen staff members each in Florida. McCain's campaign said he will continue to visit Florida.
''It's obviously a little upsetting that he doesn't have the staff here to build the infrastructure, because I think that's important for grass-roots support,'' said state Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, who is serving as McCain's Southeast legislative co-chairwoman. ``You can't build a grass-roots operation overnight and, unfortunately, McCain is already behind the eight ball.''
Allison DeFoor, a member of McCain's advisory committee in Florida and a former vice chairman of the state GOP, said: ``Obviously, this is not good news. Those of us in Florida have been advocating more boots on the ground, not less.''
McCain has burned through most of the more than $24 million he has raised so far with little to show for it in the polls. In contrast, Giuliani has $18 million on hand, while Romney has $12 million.
In a sign of how much money matters, Romney's television advertising has been credited with helping the little-known former governor of Massachusetts rise to the top of the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire. He has run the most television ads of any presidential candidate, including 319 spots in Florida, according to a recent survey by The Nielsen Co.
Giuliani is favored by Republican voters in Florida, followed by unofficial candidate Fred Thompson, in the latest survey by Quinnipiac University. Thompson is expected to make his first Florida appearance Saturday at the Young Republican National Convention in Hollywood, potentially creating even more competition for McCain.
McCain supporters said there's plenty of time for the self-proclaimed maverick to wage a comeback. Unlike some of the lesser-known candidates who depend on advertising and grass-roots organization to raise their profiles, McCain is a former presidential contender, a well-known U.S. senator from Arizona and a decorated Vietnam veteran.
In a conference call on Monday, McCain's top campaign officials blamed the campaign's downturn partly on his support for a controversial immigration plan that collapsed in the Senate last month. McCain came to immigrant-rich South Florida a month ago to deliver his most extensive remarks championing the revisions, which would allow millions of illegal immigrants to earn citizenship.
''The immigration bill has been a distraction, and it's been an ugly, divisive debate that he was in the middle of,'' said Republican fundraiser Ana Navarro, who lobbied for the plan in Washington. ``He's been courageous, but it had a huge political cost.''