Bill McInturff, lead pollster for the campaign of Sen. John McCain, declared campaign financing for presidential candidates dead given the massive spending of Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign.
“Obama has killed campaign financing for presidential elections forever,” McInturff declared this past Friday at the annual conference of the International Association of Political Consultants.
His comments came during a wide-ranging discussion between three of 2008’s top strategists. He spoke alongside Anita Dunn, a top Obama strategist, and Mark Penn, chief strategist and pollster for Sen. Hillary Clinton.
McInturff repeated McCain’s criticism of Obama, noting that the Democrat backed away from financing after declaring he would opt-in if his opponent did the same. Still, McInturff said, “He didn’t keep his word for rational reasons. If someone gave you a choice between $80 million and $300 million, what would you pick?”
And, “as a Republican,” McInturff noted, “I always hated [the presidential financing system] anyway, so what the hell.”
McInturff’s comments preceded a slightly testy exchange with Obama strategist Anita Dunn in which she accused McCain of displaying some opportunism on the subject of campaign financing, and disputing the end result of Obama’s massive spending.
“For years reformers said ‘we need more small donors and we need to get rid of the big donors,’” Dunn said. “That’s what we did.”
Perhaps the biggest shock of the 2008 race was that for the first time in decades, Democrats had more money for a presidential race than Republicans. “It’s like the Golden Rule,” said McInturff. “Republicans always have more money.”
So what would the three strategists have done differently? Given Obama’s spending and the onset of the economic crisis, McInturff said “we could have done 9 things differently and we wouldn’t have had different results.”
As for the Obama campaign, Dunn expressed some regret about the one event that provided a brief opening for the McCain campaign—Obama’s foreign tour. “We all would have made that foreign trip a few days shorter so Bill and his friends couldn’t have had quite as much fun at our expense.”
And former Clinton strategist Mark Penn still thinks his message was misunderstood and misconstrued by the press. “There was nothing that ever said experience over change was the message,” Penn insisted. “Our biggest problem was getting the message heard correctly. I have to go back and figure out exactly why that was.”
Shane D’Aprile is web editor at Politics magazine. firstname.lastname@example.org