McCain's Win Makes Him a Big Target

Democratic 527s Now Have Someone to Unload On

By Published on .

Evan Tracey Evan Tracey
So the GOP now has its man. John McCain's ride to the nomination that started from New Hampshire and, for all practical purposes, ended on Super Tuesday has placed him as the first candidate in the starting gate for the 2008 general elections. McCain used a steady dose of biography, foreign policy and, yes, straight-talk ads to get the nomination.

With the two remaining Democrats now confined to a fight that could go on for a while, it appears the money they raise from here on out will focus on reaching Democratic and independent voters in the remaining states. It also seems likely that Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania will see ad spending rival the almost $25 million spent in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina at the beginning of this race.

Presidential election advertising wars come in three phases, beginning with the fight for the nomination. The second phase encompasses the post-nomination period, which is often dominated by partys ads and group ads (i.e. Bill Clinton's stealth media buys in 1996). The advertising wars conclude with the post convention free-for-all. We now find ourselves with one candidate in Phase Two, with the other candidate perhaps months away from joining the race.

Phase Two is where the defining of the opponent historically takes place. With McCain now the first one in the general election, he's basically standing alone in the realm of Phase Two. Although many of the pundits have said otherwise, I see this as a bit of a problem for McCain's campaign. McCain is now challenged to protect his brand from the attacks that will soon be launched from the Democratic Party as well as issue groups and 527s on the political left.

Despite a lack of a candidate, these groups have been laying in wait for an opportunity to engage "the enemy." Now that groups on the left have someone they can exclusively aim their fire towards, they can be as negative as they dare. After all, their only alternative to sell to voters is the idea of "change."

The role of 527 groups in a campaign is to disrupt. For all of you fans of negative or attack ads, it is likely that the next phase of this campaign will be dominated by tens of millions of dollars of some very sharp attacks. The problem now for the GOP is how to attack or define an opponent who has not been named. The only clear target the Democrats are offering up at the moment is "change." What has yet to become clear is if the opponent will be Hillary "Ready on day one" Clinton or Barack "Changing the world" Obama.

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Evan Tracey is the founder and chief operating officer of Campaign Media Analysis Group, a TNS Media Intelligence company. See his complete bio.
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