Archive for February, 2009

DC’s New Ice Age

Friday, February 27th, 2009

An excellent read from Thursday’s Washington Post, front page in the analog version, about the amazing turnaround of the Washington Capitals. This is a classic example of what visionary leadership, hands-on management and innovative marketing can do for a franchise or a business.  I have the pleasure of knowing Ted Leonsis, the owner of The Caps, and he’s just an incredible guy.  Congrats, Ted!  You deserve it.  Let’s keep the wins coming and the sell-outs going, all the way to the Stanley Cup!

A Turning Point

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

The campaign strategy was to focus on a repeat performance of John McCain’s 2000 primary win in New Hampshire.  Knowing that Iowa had never been a strong state for John, partly due to his opposition to ethanol subsidiaries (sometimes straight talk doesn’t achieve the best political result); the plan was to spend only modest time there and go for broke in New Hampshire.

Under Rick Davis’s leadership the campaign had developed an austerity budget that continued through the fall. The basic concept was to keep total spending to $1.5 million per month, raise $2 million or more per month, and put some money in the bank for the final push in New Hampshire.

My role as Finance Co-Chairman was pretty simple – spend a few hours each day calling people to solicit $2300 contributions. In June and July, the success rate of those calls was at best 10 percent – pretty discouraging. However, it improved dramatically as we moved into September 2007.

The Republican primary debates began in September.  It was apparent that John was the best candidate on stage with substantive viewpoints and the necessary experience to lead. As a result our fundraising activity began to improve, and we surpassed the monthly goals set through the remainder of the year, paid off much of the campaign’s debt, and made significant investments into our messaging and political activities.

On September 19, we hosted one of John’s most successful fund raising dinners at my home in McLean, VA. We had 26 people and raised about $60,000. It seemed like a lot at the time and represented real progress from where we came, but it was still a far cry from what we needed and would later achieve.

We knew John had to win New Hampshire to have a shot at obtaining the nomination.  Although we didn’t have superior finances, we had a candidate who was committed to meeting every single voter.  So John spent the fall traveling across the state that had catapulted him to stardom just eight years earlier.  The polling numbers continued to rise.

The Iowa Caucus came, and Mike Huckabee had a surprise win over Mitt Romney with John coming in a respectable third, especially given that he virtually pulled out of the state months earlier.  This was a major boost to us since Romney has been leading in both Iowa and New Hampshire polls for months. All eyes turned to New Hampshire.

We received some great boosts including the endorsement and active campaigning of Senator Joe Lieberman, and the later endorsements from all the major newspapers, including those in Governor Romney’s hometown of Boston. By November, I was convinced John would win the nomination and even ventured forth with a blog to that effect as well as an Op Ed in the “Washington Times.”


Marlene and I joined the campaign’s leaders in New Hampshir e for a final get out the vote push.  It was apparent that our finance team had bonded a great deal since our time in Sedona that summer.  Everyone had worked tirelessly to ensure we would still be alive in New Hampshire, and it looked like we might actually have a shot to win.  We spent the morning going to polling places, holding “Vote McCain” signs – kind of a far cry from managing a campaign, but what else was there to do. In fact, the Washington Post even picked up on this in an article that appeared the next day.  We spent the afternoon making get out the vote calls and ended the day in John and Cindy’s suite at the Crown Plaza in Nashua.  Finally, the AP notified us that they were going to call the race for John.  A feat that had seemed impossible months earlier had just become a reality.

A Leadership Shift

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

After leaving Sedona on June 30th with a clearer picture of the campaign’s financial plight, Terry and John Weaver returned to campaign headquarters with the resolve to lighten the campaign’s monthly burn rate.  They ordered each department to terminate members of their staff.  This day, which became known as Black Monday, ended with a much smaller campaign staff.  This of course impacted the Finance Department too; shrinking the organization to just seven members.   These reductions were needed, and in my view came very late considering our financial situation.

Meanwhile, while in Iraq, John realized the campaign needed more stringent control on spending and a fresh leadership perspective.  He decided to turn to Rick Davis, his 2000 campaign manager, long-time friend and confidant.  Up to this point, Rick had been serving as the campaign’s CEO, a position that was more relationship building than operational.

When John returned to Washington, DC he met with Terry and John Weaver and explained his decision to bring Rick Davis back into the leadership structure. Terry and John Weaver then resigned from the campaign, and the remaining staff at headquarters was abuzz with resignations.  The Finance Department went from its six members to three. Mary Kate Johnson, Jim McCray, her deputy, and two other members of the finance staff resigned that day.  At the close of business, a meeting was held with Rick Davis and the remaining staff.  People were looking around the room and wondering just how many days were left.

My sense of what went wrong up to this point was that the people running the campaign had earned their spurs in the Bush campaign where he was the presidential nominee in 2000 and the certain nominee in 2004. They seemed to feel in 2007 that John McCain was the presumptive nominee this time and that they could mount a large and costly campaign from the start, replicating their successful efforts in the Bush campaigns. They also seemed not to realize how weak John’s support was among the Conservative base, and how vital that base was to a successful fund raising effort.

Despite the fact the campaign was declared dead by the pundits, that the entire staff could fit into a single conference room, and that we were several million dollars in debt, not a single member of the Finance Committee abandoned their support for John McCain.

Without a Finance Director, Tom Loeffler turned to Susan Nelson, a former fundraiser who was working at his firm to take over the day-to-day operations. Tom also asked Brian Haley, a third year law student at UT Austin, who had taken the year off to work at Tom’s firm and assist him at the campaign to assume the responsibilities of the deputy finance director.

Rick, Tom, and Susan requested an emergency conference call with the National Finance Co-chairman that next day.  Rick explained the campaign’s situation. He shared that John had instituted a new Budget Oversight Committee with fiduciary responsibility over all major financial decisions at the Campaign and promised to reign in the out of control spending and begin to pay down the debt. The news was dire but the participants each recommitted their support.

Tom, Susan and Brian devised a new strategy to raise money for the campaign. They recommended we focus our major fundraising swings in four states: California, New York, Texas, and Florida. In addition, as an effort to save travel costs, they outlined a strategy to visit states in the periphery of the early Primary States where John was spending much of his time.  This was a tough period for all of us associated with the McCain campaign. John had sunk down to single digits in some polls, he trailed Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Fred Thompson by wide margins, Romney was on his way to a big win in the Iowa straw poll, and many press articles were no longer even mentioning John when discussing the field. Some friends were laughing at me for my continual support, and all but a very few told me his campaign was dead. I didn’t believe it and continued to believe his proven leadership, his determination, his character, and his view of the future (including Iraq and immigration) would eventually prevail. So we marched on.

For me the turning point came on John and Cindy’s trip to Aspen on August 15. I am a part time resident of Aspen, especially in the summer, and have the pleasure to serve on the Board and Executive Committee of the Aspen Institute. Each year in August, we have an awards dinner where we honor people of distinction, and in 2005 we honored John McCain and Joe Lieberman together for their bipartisan leadership. The Institute also invites distinguished speakers for late afternoon forums, and the Institute’s President, Walter Isaacson and I discussed inviting John to speak the summer of 2007.   I was impressed by the positive response from Democrats and Republicans alike to John’s speech at the Aspen Institute.  People approached me asking what they could do to help.

Later we hosted a small dinner at our home for John and Cindy with ten of our friends, some McCain supporters and some Democrats. Included were Bill and Cathy Mayer (then Chairman of the Aspen Institute), Bob and Jillian Steel (current Chairman and former Under Secretary of Treasury), Stewart and Lynda Resnick, Rick and Erica Horvitz, and Walter and Cathy Isaacson. It was a lively discussion and I became even more convinced John would become our nominee.  He was on fire throughout the dinner, and won over all 14 people present.

On the broader political front, Rick, Charlie Black, and John decided to focus the campaign on John’s commitment to win the war in Iraq and his successful call for the surge strategy.  At the time, the country was still very much focused on the outcome of the war and the surge had just begun to take effect.  John hopped on the re-branded Straight Talk Express for his No Surrender Tour, visiting halls, diners and the like mainly in New Hampshire. There was John flying alone on commercial airlines, carrying his own bags, and engaging the constant barter with reporters and others on the bus. This was the real John McCain again – the Mac was back. A strategy partially borne of frugality was working. People relished the straight talk, the refusal to pander, the direct and honest responses to issues they would raise. John was winning voters one and two at a time. Retail politics at its best.

Life was slowly, but surely being breathed back into the campaign. The new fundraising strategy was paying off, and the political tide was changing.  We even met August’s budget projections.

Next post, I’ll share a first-person view and what that was like of the real “turn-around” for the campaign.

McCain Campaign: The Early Days

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

The 2008 presidential campaigns will long be remembered as historic.  Of course, one of the most remarkable thresholds crossed was the record breaking financial resources raised and spent through the process.  In fact our fund-raising for McCain-Palin 2008 raised over $450 million, by far the most successful in Republican Presidential campaign history.  The previous record was $260 million, set by Bush-Cheney in 2004.  Much will be discussed over the coming years on how political races should be financed.  With record shattering funds raised by both campaigns and political parties it’s easy to see why.

As mentioned in an earlier post, I had the distinct privilege of serving first as a National Finance Co-chairman and then as de-facto National Finance Chairman for Senator McCain these past two years. While I have served on many campaigns, in a variety of different leadership positions, this was the first time I focused most of my energies on finance.   Having spent the past few months reflecting on my time leading the finance team I would like to share a few of my observations, in a short series of posts over the next few days about this historic campaign.  I welcome any and all thoughts that you’d like to share.

THE EARLY DAYS

John McCain approached me to support his bid for President in mid-2006.  Although I had been contacted by each of the to-be Republican candidates, it was an easy choice to support John. My initial assignment was to Chair or Co-Chair a Senior Advisor Group that would meet with John every other week to provide an objective and unvarnished view of what was right and what was wrong with the campaign:  to give those hard truths that are often difficult to get from staff.  This assignment was exciting to me as it tied in with my prior political roles as 1988 Convention Director and 1992 Campaign Manager for President George H.W. Bush.  However, due to John’s campaign travel and Senate responsibilities, it never really got off the ground.  In March 2007, it became apparent that fundraising was lagging, and I was asked to serve as one of his original 20 National Finance Co-chairman and charged with the task of helping to raise $100 million for the primary. That seemed like an awful lot.

As someone who supported John’s bid from the beginning, it’s hard to forget the high political ups and deep political downs the campaign faced through the election cycle.  Thinking back, one of the original disappointments we encountered was the announcement of poor fundraising numbers during the first quarter of 2007.  Much of this was due to John’s steadfast and courageous support of the unpopular surge in Iraq and of immigration reform.

Regardless of the inflow of cash, the campaign’s leadership, who at that point consisted of Terry Nelson as Campaign Manager and John Weaver as Chief Political Strategist, was still spending towards the $100 million budget.  The campaign was at its first major (of what would be many) finance hurdles.  As a result, John Weaver and Carla Eudy asked Tom Loeffler, who was then serving as General Co-chairman and as a National Finance Co-chairman, to assume the responsibilities of National Finance Chairman.

Tom approached his new responsibilities, and the dire financial situation, with the calm and collective presence that he always portrays.  What was unapparent however, was the tremendous turmoil-taking place behind the scenes. It wasn’t more than a month before an announcement came that Mary Kate Johnson would replace Carla Eudy as the campaign’s finance director.

Not long after Carla’s departure, a meeting of the National Finance Co-chairman occurred and a plan was laid out to reach the necessary targets to meet the budget and win the Republican primary.  We left the meeting with assurances that spending was under control and that more time was being allocated to accommodate additional fundraising events across the country.

June served as the final fundraising month of the second quarter and John planned to spend a great deal of time traveling the country raising funds and gathering support for the campaign. Unfortunately, political plans do not often line up with realities.  In June of 2007 Congress decided to tackle the very divisive issue of Immigration Reform.

Whether you loved or hated John’s position in the Immigration debate, his actions that June exhibited the quintessential get-in-the-middle, role up your sleeves, bi-partisan leadership that has marked his service to our country.  Unfortunately, at the time, much of the Republican base did not see this leadership as a positive attribute.  As a result, the fundraising well dried up, and it could not have come at a worse time.

The National Finance Co-chairmen were invited to John and Cindy’s beautiful cabin in Sedona to review campaign strategy and fundraising. The date was June 30.

Terry and John Weaver presented the situation to us. The campaign had accrued a great deal of debt due to heavy spending and the harsh fundraising environment in June.  In fact the campaign was not only broke but owed money.  Despite the problem, John remained encouraged and upbeat.  He shared his vision for America and thanked us for continuing to support his bid. Marlene and I enjoyed the stay at the McCain’s cabin thoroughly and left with deep concerns but continued commitment.

John left Sedona and headed to Iraq with his good friends and colleagues Lindsay Graham and Joe Lieberman.  Although we left Sedona with great uncertainty on the future of the campaign, we also left with a stronger commitment to John and his vision for our country, and a deeper impression of his resolute discipline and perseverance.

It’s funny given that I run in both business and political circles, for years if not decades, I would consistently hear CEOs complain about politicians and Washington and state, “if politicians could only be for like us, Washington and this country would be a better place.”  In light of our current economic crisis, I can say without a doubt if every CEO had the discipline, perseverance and sense of honor of John McCain, this economy and this country would be in a much better place.

Up next, I will share my thoughts on “the leadership shake-up” and the beginning of the turn-around in the McCain campaign that led all the way to the nomination in St. Paul last summer.

Honoring John Dingell

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

In the coming days I will pick up on my previous post by sharing some additional insights from the McCain campaign. I wanted to pause for moment, however, and reflect on my friend John Dingell’s service to this country.

As Deputy Director of the US Office of Management and Budget in 1973, I first met John Dingell and was deeply impressed with his passion and commitment. As a result of our meeting, we were able to ensure continuity of a wild life sanctuary. This began a 35 year friendship between a conservative Republican and a leading Democrat.

What mostly impressed me about John is his perseverance and dedication, never losing a step when the Republican revolution in 1994 resulted in his losing his powerful position as Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. This was apparent more recently when again found his position changing. John Dingell’s commitment to excellence and devotion to his country is an inspiration, and we could not have a better man to honor as the longest serving member of Congress in our history.

Inauguration, Alfalfa, McCain and Palin

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

It’s been a few months since my last posting, but recent events in Washington, namely the inauguration of President Obama, brought old friends and campaign memories to the forefront.

The January 20 Inauguration and the January 31 Alfalfa Club dinner brought me in close quarters again with John McCain and allowed me to bring John and Sarah Palin together for the first time since election night.

I have met numerous times since the election with John McCain and have been heartened and inspired by his refusal to look backward, his total absence of bitterness or even disappointment, and his singular focus on helping meet the challenges facing our country. Senator Obama was gracious to have a dinner the night before his inauguration honoring John McCain, and the bipartisan spirit of the gathering together with John’s heartfelt and supportive remarks added to my admiration for this man of extraordinary character. The next day was the Inauguration Day, and that night I was privileged to host a dinner at my home for John, Cindy, and a small group of friends and supporters. It was light hearted, and the only looking back consisted of stories by John, Lindsey Graham, and Susan Collins about some of the lighter moments and faux pas on their trips to Iraq and Afghanistan and other hot spots.

A little over a week later was the Alfalfa Club dinner. Alfalfa is a 200 member club with mostly illustrious members such as leading Senators, Congressmen, CEOs, Supreme Court Justices, and former Presidents, as well as a few such as myself, who somehow slipped past the screening. The club does absolutely nothing other than an annual dinner filled with patriotism, bipartisanship, and very humorous speakers, including traditionally the President. Each member is allowed to bring two guests and one of mine this year was Sarah Palin. The night before, last reported by Roxanne Roberts of the “Washington Post”, Marlene and I hosted a small dinner at our home for my Alfalfa guests and a few other friends. Here is what impressed me most over the weekend:

  • The warmth John McCain showed toward Sarah Palin when she arrived at my home Friday night. It was the first time they had been together since the election, and their good feelings toward each other were evident. 
  • The gracious and engaged Sarah Palin was with everyone. It was great to see her in deep conversations with people like Alan Greenspan, Madeleine Albright, Walter Isaacson, and Mitch McConnell. For sure, nothing shallow about this lady. 
  • The celebrity treatment Sarah received from the highly sophisticated crowd at Alfalfa. There were as many or more people lined up to meet her as there was for President Obama. 
  • Sarah’s singular focus on her job as Governor of Alaska. She left Anchorage on a 2:30 a.m. flight Friday so as not to miss a day on the job, and she singled out people to meet who could be impactful to Alaska, including President Obama.
  • Sarah’s grace and charisma reminded me of why she had been selected as John McCain’s running mate.

All of this brings me to a few reflections on the 2008 campaign which I will offer in the coming days, in a series of a few postings.