As this structure grinds into gear, the campaign is planning at least three dozen fund-raising events over the next month. The Senator will be making a new push on the front end as well, planning a dizzying series of policy forums and town halls on Iraq and energy issues. He’s been preparing exhaustively for a tight schedule of summer speeches, town hall forums and primary debates.
And his campaign has stepped up its attacks on Mitt Romney, whose gains in the polls and among the party establishment have come largely at Mr. McCain’s expense. “In October or November, this kind of back-and-forth can backfire. Voters look for a third candidate to support,” says the University of Virginia political-science professor Larry Sabato. “If they’re going to do it, they can’t do it in six months. They have to act now.”
The campaign had little choice but to play up the upcoming blitz, making the summer strategy into an all-or-nothing gambit. “They’ve ratcheted up expectations—putting all their chips on the table, I guess you could call it,” said political analyst Stuart Rothenberg. “If the fund-raising numbers are still disappointing after this, if poll numbers continue to slide, if Fred Thompson skyrockets when he gets in the race, the bad buzz will just become overwhelming.”
In other words, if Mr. McCain is to achieve the sort of comeback victory that Mr. Kerry managed in the 2004 primary, he’ll have to show signs of long-term viability that, for the moment, he’s sorely lacking.
“Success breeds success and failure breeds failure,” observes Democratic strategist Steven Elmendorf, who was deputy campaign manager for John Kerry in 2004. “Primary voters want someone who can win, and John McCain doesn’t look like he can.”