ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
We're beginning to get the second quarter fundraising numbers for presidential candidates, and for at least one candidate, the news is forcing a campaign shakeup.
John McCain, who is lagging behind his Republican rivals in money raised and in the polls, said today that he will lay off staff and cut the pay of some senior aides. Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Barack Obama continues to break records. He raised an eye-popping $31 million this quarter, more than any other Democrat at this stage in the campaign, and, more importantly, $10 million more than frontrunner Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to raise this quarter.
Well, joining us now is NPR political correspondent Mara Liasson. And Mara, how bad is that news for the McCain campaign?
MARA LIASSON: Bad. Today they announced that John McCain raised $11.2 million this quarter. That's less than the $12.5 he raised the first quarter, and that puts him in the third position behind Romney and Giuliani in the Republican field. The campaign says they have enough to continue the campaign, but they only have $2 million in cash-on-hand. They are, as you said, laying off around 50 staffers. There will be pay cuts. The campaign manager, Terry Nelson, will be working for free, and what's more significant, as they said today, that they are seriously considering taking federal matching funds.
Now that's really significant because they would only get about $6 million if they did that, and that shows you how deep a hole there is.
SIEGEL: What's going on here? John McCain was viewed as the Republican frontrunner. The Republican Party is accustomed to nominating its frontrunner for whom it's as much a coronation as a primary season. What's the matter this time?
LIASSON: Well, John McCain has said he wanted to see if he could catch lightning in a bottle twice. He was the phenomenon of the 2000 race. He did come in second. But he hasn't been able to do that. And one of the McCain people described their strategy as taking a weak hand and bluffing their way into being the frontrunner. He was never the real frontrunner. He had so many problems with the base of his party. And you saw all of them come into play this year, really hurting him. Immigration - he was at odds with the base of his party. He had persistent problems with the base around campaign finance reform. He'd railed against special interests for so many years. It was very hard to go on and raise money from them.
SIEGEL: And the point on which he was with the base of his party, Iraq…
SIEGEL: …makes it difficult for him to get beyond that in succession.
LIASSON: That's right. And he has taken principled positions on Iraq. He's stuck to his guns. He really led with his chin on immigration. And, you know, Michael Gerson, who is President Bush's former speechwriter, wrote a wonderful column where he says McCain is like martyr tied to the stake, lighting the fire with his own Zippo. And, you know, McCain really does have an archaic sense of honor, and some of that sense of values is foreign if not completely incompatible with the way modern elections are waged.
SIEGEL: Let's talk about the Democrats. They are raising more money, first of all, overall than the Republicans. And Barack Obama has done it again. This time, he outraced Hillary Rodham Clinton by $10 million. Does it change the dynamic of the race?
LIASSON: I think it affects the dynamic of the race. It's more and more a two-person race on the Democratic side. It means that she is not going to be the inevitable nominee. I think this fundraising announcement comes at a very important moment for Obama. You know, conventional wisdom in Washington was really congealing around the idea that Clinton was unbeatable. Obama haven't been able to overtake her in the polls. He hadn't lived up to his promise. Of course, for him, the bar is set very high. He has to be like Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy combined every time he appears somewhere.
But the polls, this early on, are notoriously unreliable. And in some of the key early states, Obama is either right on the heels of Senator Clinton as in Iowa, or in South Carolina, he's actually ahead of her.
SIEGEL: Well, one person who would seem to be eclipsed by Obama's fundraising successes would be Senator John Edwards, former Senator John Edwards, who was, for a longtime, seen as Senator Clinton's main competitor here.
LIASSON: That's right. I think more and more, there is getting to be a bigger distance between the two top tier candidates on the Democratic side - Obama and Clinton and Edwards. On the other hand, he did raise $9 million this quarter. He's far behind the other two, but he has really camped out in Iowa for the last four years. He's at the top of the polls in many polls in that state. You can't count him out. And I do think, at least in that first caucus state, Edwards is still a very important factor.
SIEGEL: NPR's Mara Liasson, thank you very much.
LIASSON: Thank you, Robert.
SIEGEL: And you're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
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