McCain fundraising adapts to Palin's star

John McCain’s campaign is scrapping, rescheduling or offering surrogates for nearly every one of the fundraisers Sarah Palin was to hold this month, instead having her campaign jointly with McCain, prepare for her sole debate next month and get some foreign policy exposure.

According to an internal fundraising calendar put together in late-August just before McCain’s vice presidential selection, Palin was to have headlined nine fundraisers across five states by now.

She’s attended just one to date.

And she’ll miss several more that had been in the works for this week, having reunited with McCain to stump in suburban Philadelphia Monday before heading to New York City for two days of meetings with foreign leaders in town for the United Nations General Assembly.

“It only makes sense that we would maximize her time and make sure the schedule lets her spend time meeting with voters, mobilizing volunteers and communicating her record,” said an aide to Palin, requesting anonymity to discuss strategic matters.

It also provides Palin more time to prepare for her ongoing policy crash course ahead of her October 2 debate with Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden in St. Louis and to get the sort of first-hand accounts on global affairs that she, by her own admission, has never previously received.

As for the trek to New York, Palin’s aide said: “It provides a great opportunity to meet and discuss world issues with the same leaders she would be dealing with as vice president.” 

The finance calendar was planned before Palin was tapped, stressed this aide, and it's being adjusted now to fit the nominee.

Indeed, the tearing up of the planned schedule for the then-unknown number two is yet another reminder of the outsized role Palin is playing in the race and what an untraditional vice presidential candidate she is. Most running mates are designated attack dogs, dispatched to toss out hunks of red meat in B-markets and squeeze in fundraising receptions as often as possible. The idea is to divide and conquer, ensuring local coverage in separate media markets each day.

And that was originally the plan for Palin as late as the week of the GOP convention, according to McCain aides. 

But almost immediately after St. Paul, it became clear to the campaign that she was essential to the Republican ticket’s buzz quotient and thus needed at McCain’s side to ensure large crowds and enthusiasm for the GOP ticket. A schedule built around solo grip-and-grin sessions with well-heeled donors was no longer deemed as the best use of her time.

Recognizing her appeal — and fearing the embarrassment of dismal crowds without her — McCain’s campaign has taken the unusual step of having the nominee and his running mate on the same stage together at rallies all over the country.

Palin is no less an attraction without McCain, something that was made abundantly clear Sunday night when she drew tens of thousands supporters out to a central Florida retirement community, at least doubling the crowd President Bush brought out to the same place four years ago.

“That just answered the question,” quipped GOP strategist Scott Reed, pointing to the droves of Floridians who braved 90-degree heat to get a glimpse of Palin as enough explanation as to why the campaign was scratching her from fundraisers. “She’s become the secret weapon because she invigorates the base and drives the news.”

Palin, despite being absent from the money circuit for most of this month, has already been a boon to McCain’s fundraising. Aides said $10 million of the $47 million the campaign raised in August came in the three remaining days of the month after she was tapped. When she and McCain do raise money between now and Election Day, it is for a joint fund to mostly benefit the RNC and some state parties.

But the decision to alter Palin’s schedule so dramatically is wreaking havoc on a calendar of long-planned fundraisers and forcing aides to quickly decide how to best spend each day before November 4.

Invitations for a luncheon slated for Monday in Minneapolis, for example, had been sent to Minnesota Republicans a month ago, touting a then-unknown vice presidential nominee.

But Palin was en route to Pennsylvania to be at McCain’s side for a joint rally in a critical county, so the event has been cancelled and may not be rescheduled.

Some events are being pushed back to next month. Fundraisers that had been slated for later this week in California will now be held in the first week in October, aides said. 

“Finances are almost on par between the candidates,” Reed continued, “so the best thing she can do is create enthusiasm and prepare for the big debate. Everything else is a distant second.”

Indeed, after months of Republican fretting and expectation-setting about a money gap, the campaigns are about even when party money is included. As of the end of August, Obama and the Democratic National Committee had a combined $95 million to McCain and the RNC’s $94 million. And, thanks to his decision to take matching public funds, McCain has $84 million extra coming courtesy of the federal government.

Others are being held as scheduled, just featuring prominent stand-ins for Palin. Donors attending what had been scheduled as a vice presidential event Wednesday in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and for example, will see the ticket’s spouses, Cindy McCain and Todd Palin.

In addition to the political imperatives that have driven the schedule changes, Palin’s fundraising efforts have also been limited by Mother Nature. The remnants of Hurricane Ike scuttled two events in Ohio.

Palin aides said she’ll do more fundraising in October, but will also continue to stump as often as she can, both with and without McCain.

“We’ll have them campaigning together and we’ll have them campaigning apart in a way that we think makes most sense as we manage against the two finite commodities that all campaigns have to manage against, which is time and money with 43 days left to go,” was how campaign chief Steve Schmidt put it on a conference call with reporters Monday.

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