ARI SHAPIRO, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro, in for Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne. We're going to look at two competing presidential campaigns this morning and what they show about the relative strengths of Senators Barack Obama and John McCain as candidates. In a moment, we'll hear about the Obama campaign's plan to register new black voters in Southern red states. We focus first on the McCain campaign. John McCain raised $21 million in May. That's his best month ever. And he's closing in on Barack Obama in cash on hand. Not such good news is one new poll from Newsweek, showing McCain 15 points behind. Joining us to talk about the McCain camp is NPR news analyst Juan Williams. Good morning, Juan.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: So yesterday, John McCain had to distance himself from the remarks of his chief strategist, who said - let me say generally - that another terror attack in the US would give McCain an advantage. What happened there?
WILLIAMS: Well, Charlie Black, who's been a long-time Republican political operative - he was an aid to the first President Bush, as well as to President Reagan - was asked about what, you know, what would happen if there was another terrorist attack in this country. It was raised by the writer.
And in response, Charlie Black said - here I'm quoting - "Certainly, it would be a big advantage to him," end quote, speaking of John McCain. And he said that, in fact, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto back in December had helped McCain during his primary race because McCain was able to speak to that issue with a strong command of foreign relations, as well as a need to address terror in the country.
So yesterday, Charlie Black apologized, that he deeply regretted it. But I think, Renee, the context here is really important because in this article - it was in Fortune magazine - McCain was asked about the single biggest economic threat that, you know, stands in front of the United States going forward, and his response was radical Islamic extremism.
And that's when he said another terror attack could have devastating consequences. And so this is a strange mix here, but it's one in which now McCain has distanced himself from Charlie Black, and as I said earlier, Black has apologized for it.
MONTAGNE: And, Juan, how seriously do you take that Newsweek poll? We spoke with this with Cokie Roberts yesterday. She didn't take it too seriously, probably because other national polls have been showing a six-point margin for Obama above that of McCain. Some, the margin is even smaller.
WILLIAMS: Well, the thing about the Newsweek poll is it's an outlier. As you've just pointed out, every other poll has them basically three to six points apart, with Obama generally up.
But it's so close - it's much closer than the generic numbers, Renee. The generic numbers, if you ask about should a Republican or a Democrat be in the White House come January of 2009, it's about a 20 percent gap. But here you're seeing in general, if you look at the, you know, the average of these polls -which is a tricky business - but it's about six points.
That, according to the McCain camp, is good news, given that the president has such terrible approval ratings right now, down about 29 percent, given that about 80 percent of the country thinks the nation is headed in the wrong direction. For John McCain, a Republican candidate, to be this close, they feel, is pretty good news heading into the convention.
MONTAGNE: And the McCain campaign had to be pleased with the money raised last month.
WILLIAMS: Well, they're still dialing for dollars. Even yesterday, they were in Fresno raising money as they were dealing with that Charlie Black controversy. But you're right. He was up, you know, 21 million in the month of May, up from 18 million in April and 15 million in March. So he continues to grow.
So, right now, what's really a surprise, Renee, is that he has close to 33 million for the summer months before the convention. And, you know, that's close to what Barack Obama has on hand for these summer months going into the convention.
So, what we're looking at right now is that not only is McCain close in that regard, but the Republican National Committee has about 53 million on hand versus just four million on hand for the Democratic National Committee. Now, Senator Obama can, of course, turn this up in a second. He's demonstrated tremendous ability to raise money.
He's going to be campaigning with Senator Clinton at the end of this week, and then next week goes out to Hollywood and will be with a bunch of stars who have lots of money to give. But for right now, before the conventions are held, again, John McCain is surprising people because he's going to be able to go toe-to-toe with Barack Obama in terms of spending money, ads and trying to refine or define himself to the voters.
MONTAGNE: And, Juan, ever so briefly, Turmoil in McCain's advising team over the months about whether go for the conservative support, the base, or reach beyond the base. What about that?
WILLIAMS: Well, right now, what happens is they're pushing for conservative. And I thin that's what's looking for the base to come around with the money and support, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Juan, thanks very much.
WILLIAMS: You're welcome.
MONTAGNE: NPR News analyst Juan Williams.