Tuesday, July 10, 2007

McCain's Collapse

News broke today of a major shakeup of the McCain presidential campaign. This on the heels of a second poor financial quarter and a mere $2 million cash on hand. The financial and staff disaster however simply reflects the trouble the campaign was in with voters.

While McCain was widely said in 2005 and 2006 to be the front runner for the Republican nomination, he consistently polled a few points behind Rudy Giuliani in that period. Since January of 2007, McCain's national level of support from Republican voters has steadily declined from nearly 25% to just over 15%.

That national decline would be bad enough for any campaign, but the situation in the early primary states has been even worse. The most dramatic failure has been in South Carolina, the state where McCain invested most heavily and where he did the most politically to mend fences demolished in the 2000 campaign. McCain's frequent visits, staff allocation and public shifts to reposition himself vis a vis South Carolina political issues and political and religious leaders initially paid off in support from around 40% of Republicans in the state as of early 2006. But the trajectory of support there has been profoundly down, standing today at around 17%.

In New Hampshire, the launch pad of the 2000 campaign, McCain has also steadily declined, from around 35% in early 2006 to half that--- 18%--- now.

In Iowa, the state McCain wrote off in 2000 and initially tried to win this time, support has crashed from 25% to under 10%.

And in Florida, the big state that moved up its primary this year, McCain has dropped from a high of 27% to 12%.

The collapse of campaigns can be attributed to poor strategy, poor management, poor fundraising. But the more fundamental cause is lack of support, a failure to connect with voters. The trajectory of the McCain campaign has been clear in these data for some time. Republican voters were simply not embracing the McCain candidacy. That was evident during his "front runner" period when journalists couldn't believe Giuliani's lead in the polls meant McCain wasn't the front runner. It became more evident as Giuliani surged in early 2007 while McCain started to decline. And it is stunningly clear now as Republican voters have been deserting the campaign in state after state after state. (Note Giuliani's trajectory is now similar to McCain's. A topic for another day.)

Maybe different management would have raised more money and spent it less profligately, but only a message more attuned to Republican voters' preferences and concerns could have changed this campaign. Given McCain's positions over the past 7 years, perhaps no message could have been crafted that would have bonded voters to him. Only a miracle of Biblical proportions is likely to bring this one back.