Republican presidential hopeful John McCain is lowering fundraising expectations, just days before the first money deadline that will provide a clear sign about which candidates are viable - and which ones are not.
During a bus tour of New Hampshire's rural North Country, reporters asked McCain about the ever-important money race, in which donations translate into credibility. The deadline for candidates to report their first-quarter fundraising is just days away, on March 31.
"We started late, our money raising, and we're going to pay a price for it because we got off to a late start," McCain said Saturday between campaign stops. "I enjoy this kind of politics more than I enjoy raising money."
McCain's admission is surprising for a top-tier GOP candidate. Rivals have been racing from fundraiser to fundraiser to show they have the millions for a presidential bid. Rudy Giuliani has been holding fundraisers around the country and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney raised $6.5 million in a single day in January. Romney has already purchased $800,000 in television air time.
Campaigning for cash
McCain, who got off to an early start with the announcement of an exploratory committee last year, was considered the GOP front-runner. Since then, public opinion polls have shown Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, with a double-digit lead.
McCain said he has no idea what kind of cash the other campaigns will offer. The Arizona senator has hosted only four campaign fundraisers since forming the exploratory committee in December. The campaign said he has about 40 scheduled before the start of May.
McCain argues there's still time left in the current Federal Election Commission reporting period that ends March 31. He plans a last push, but his staff declines to offer any predictions.
"This is a campaign that is focused on winning the nomination, and fundraising throughout the entire year is an important part of that," said spokesman Danny Diaz. "We're focused on building an organization in the critical states so we can communicate the senator's conservative message to voters on his behalf."
McCain has staffed his campaign with high-profile veterans, many of whom helped get President Bush re-elected in 2004. He is paying his top political adviser $15,000 a month - a rate considered standard. But he delayed his announcement tour until April, in part to put off the costs to the next quarter.
He entered the race with about $492,500 from his Senate account, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Strategists from both parties predict the 2008 campaign could cost each major party's nominee $500 million.