February 26th, 2009

A Turning Point

file under John McCain, Uncategorized - Fred Malek @ 5:24 pm
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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.

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