My last chapter in the campaign ended with our successful convention in St. Paul, MN. Both John McCain and Sarah Palin excited people across the country, and we came roaring into the general elections. Due to the enthusiastic crowds that Sarah was attracting, John and Sarah did a lot of campaigning together as a team. It was working, and John’s message and character, as well as the team’s maverick image, resulted in a real boost to the ticket. By September 12, we were three points ahead on average in the national polls and were well positioned and gaining in the key electoral states.
Then came the economic tsunami, and it all changed. On September 13, Lehman Brothers failed, and an economic crisis gained steam. The public placed a fair amount of blame on the party in power – the Republicans, and the Obama campaign skillfully exploited this disaffection. While candidate Obama and his team offered no real solutions and had no experience in dealing with the economy, they weren’t us and thus reaped the benefit. With an unpopular war, an incumbent president sinking in the polls, and now the most vexing economic crisis of our generation, John McCain went from a three point lead to an eight point deficit in the polls in ten days. We weren’t helped by John’s decision to suspend the campaign, threaten to cancel the first debate, and return to Washington to address the problem and find a bipartisan approach to a salvage package. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to accomplish this and his standing on the economy was diminished.
Although John performed admirably in the three debates, and Sarah did a great job in her debate with then Senator Biden, we could not achieve parity in the polls on who would best handle the economy or in presidential preference.
On the fund raising side, we knew John would have time for only four fundraisers. We mapped out where we though we would have the best possible return with John’s time and decided to hold events in Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, and New York.
Immediately after the Convention, John headed to Chicago for his first major fundraiser in the General Election. We had been told repeatedly that we would never raise more then $2 million in Chicago. No Republican had ever raised more than that and most observers felt would be increasingly difficult in Obama’s home town. We knew there was a silent Republican base in Chicago who wanted to support John and would be willing to contribute if given the opportunity. Our team in Illinois, led by Pat Kinsey, ended the night with $4 million for John with great leadership from Bill Strong, Jack Sandner, Bill Smithburg, and others.
Subsequent events in Miami and Los Angeles were successful, culminating in our October 14 final event in New York City. Woody Johnson, who was a tower of strength throughout the campaign, again performed admirably. Our consulting team of Tamara Hallisey and Rachel McGregor had been a strong team of fundraisers in New York and Connecticut throughout the campaign. They were determined once again to break the record as the largest event for John, which they had previously set in May at $7 million. This was also to be the only joint fundraising event with both John and Sarah Palin. As we approached this event, the economic turmoil that we are now experiencing began to break, and we were all nervous about how this would affect the bottom line. In the end, our New York Finance Committee rallied together, raising over $10 million – the largest fundraising event for a candidate in the city’s history.
Sarah Palin also traveled the country attending political events and fundraisers. It was absolutely incredible to see the grassroots support, both politically and financially, that she generated. Her fundraisers were extremely successful, out performing all the goals set.
As mentioned at the onset, I am proud that total fundraising for McCain-Palin 2008 resulted in the most successful finance efforts for a Republican presidential campaign in history.