John McCain's Prudent And Bizarre Budget Moves

11/23/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

With the presidential campaign approaching its long-awaited conclusion, the McCain campaign has begun making a series of budgetary decisions designed to stretch its resources for maximum political gain.

On Tuesday, multiple news outlets reported that the Senator would be reducing his advertising presence in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota and -- a Democratic source alleges -- Iowa, all states that represent Electoral College opportunities.

But while Democrats greet the news as validation of Barack Obama's more envious electoral position, media analysts and political observers caution that the effect may be marginal. For starters, McCain's ad drops may not actually be taking place. Officials at various stations in Wisconsin noted that the campaign retains the prerogative to pour money back into their media market should slots be still available. Moreover, a spokesperson for WKBT in La Crosse, Wisconsin told the Huffington Post that -- far from drawing down -- the McCain camp had actually put in an additional "several thousand dollars" for advertisements on its station through November 3rd.

It could not be determined where else the Republican ticket was actually investing in or divesting from in the state. Certainly it is within the realm of possibility that McCain put money into La Crosse while taking it out of other markets -- advertising in that Wisconsin city allows him to reach voters in Iowa and Minnesota as well.

But the main reason observers say Democrats should be cautious in their optimism about McCain's decreased media presence, is that Obama isn't gaining that much of a proportional advantage.

"At the end of the day I think they are stretching what they have," said Evan Tracey of Campaign Media Analysis Group. "It is the difference between being outspent four to one or ten to one. At the end of the day it won't make a big impact on what viewers see... I suspect what [the McCain folks] are probably doing is trying to reallocate resources to do some more network TV down the stretch. But I don't think we are talking about some significant game changing dollars going south."

Indeed, on Wednesday Marc Ambinder reported that the McCain campaign was buying air time in traditional red state Indiana. Moreover, in some of the states where the Arizona Republican is reportedly drawing down, Obama already has the media market cornered. According to Tracey, over the past two weeks, the Illinois Democrat has outspent his counterpart $1.2 million to $250,000 in New Hampshire and $2.4 million to $1.3 million in Wisconsin. In Boston -- which reaches southern New Hampshire -- Obama has blanked McCain $850,000 to zero.

And so McCain is playing with the hand he has been dealt. In addition to reallocating resources -- Tracey predicted more national media buys down the stretch -- the Arizona Republican has turned to other cost saving methods. In recent weeks his campaign has hosted, with more regularity (including this Sunday in Nevada), tele-town-halls -- relatively inexpensive conferences in which voters are called up by a service and offered, on the spot, a chance to listen in on a speech and question and answer forum with McCain.

"These are low money events," said Shaun Dakin, CEO & Founder The National Political Do Not Contact Registry. "Tele-town-halls are much cheaper than a regular in person town hall meeting. Regular town halls meetings include venue, food and drink, staff time, transport, banners, ads, and calls to get people to the event. Tele-town-halls require none of that."

In addition, McCain will, it seems, use campaign stops as a means of generating media coverage in the markets from which he is pulling cash. On Wednesday, the Senator is hosting a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire and three days later he is slated to make two stops in long-shot Iowa.

And yet, for all of the efforts at campaign expenditure frugality, the McCain camp still has made budgetary decisions that boggle the mind. At the same time that it is taking money away from its ad buy efforts, the Senator is spending $8,672.55 a month on a makeup artist known, primarily for her work on American Idol. And on Tuesday night, Politico reported that the Republican National Committee - which shares a joint account with the Arizona Republican - had spent more than $150,000 on clothing for Sarah Palin. How many ads the Senator could have purchased with that loot depends on the market. But it would have been a good chunk for a campaign in its last two weeks.

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