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The secret hidden within John McCain's campaign schedule

July 18, 2008 |  8:32 am

You can tell a lot about any political campaign by how it invests its most precious resource: the 1,440 minutes in each candidate's day.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this item had an hour-by-hour schedule that was provided to the media for planning purposes and not intended for publication. But even if you examine the broadThe presumptive Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain of Arizona current schedule for John McCain's campaign, you'll still notice something very revealing:

Yesterday morning the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party flew from Omaha to Kansas City, Mo., for a town hall meeting at Union Station in late morning, and a series of local media interviews, of course, and he left Kansas City right after lunch for -- where else? -- Muskegon, Mich.

No, really. Muskegon, Mich.

At dinnertime he arrived near there in Ferrysburg, Mich., for a 105-minute fundraiser before flying to Detroit to sleep.

Today, he'll visit a General Motors technical center there for a tour and another town hall meeting with employees to be captured for eternity on camera, more local media interviews, of course, and a lunchtime fundraiser before flying out to New York to do another media interview.

And then comes the day's publicity moment, the Big Event, the taping of a priceless national TV interview for "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," the next Jay Leno, if there can be such a thing. An opportunity to be good-natured for a lot of younger voters.

Tomorrow, in New York City, McCain will do more media interviews before ...

... attending the real reason for getting up on a summer Saturday, two more fundraisers on Long Island, N.Y.

He'll sleep then in yet another hotel room and move on to somewhere else for, you'll never guess, more local media interviews with the same familiar sets of questions (his VP pick, Iraq, the economy), which he'll professionally act like he never heard before and answer with practiced straight-talk sincerity.

It's a mind-deadening grind for all involved, though all that the mildly attentive July world will see and possibly process for maybe voting on Nov. 4 are snippets of his answers on TV somewhere while it munches chips or veggies.

So what to make of McCain's oh-so-familiar routine?

Yes, good point, he does seem to be hopscotching all over. His campaign days sure don't start at dawn with morning shows. And there are the ubiquitous media interviews, as always.

They're free, after all. And though he can speak to 200 potential voters at a town hall, he can more efficiently reach hundreds of thousands through film of that session and media interviews afterward with slightly-starry-eyed local reporters, some of whom will secretively ask for autographs despite their outward objectivity.

Give you a hint. Follow the money.

Just 3 1/2 months out from the presidential election, McCain's national campaign schedule is being driven by the quest for money, not by the hunt for votes in 50 individual state elections. All right, every campaign says it's gonna compete everywhere. But they don't.

He's always looking for votes wherever he goes. But wherever he goes is determined not by potential votes but by where his finance folks have found enough donate-able money to set up fundraisers.

For McCain for now his itinerary is built on the quest for dollar$, not votes. That helps explain the widespread sense of unease among many Republicans nationally who do not deny he's working very hard.

But they fear he wasted his three-month general election head start not defining himself and not driving home the all-important central message of why he wants to be president.

Do you know what McCain's central message is? Do you know what his opponent's central theme is? See the difference?

Some still don't detect a national McCain strategy laid out with consistent unfolding messages drawing the portrait in voters' minds of the next commander in chief, day by day and event by event. One reason behind the recent campaign management shThe Republican presidential nominee to be Senator John McCain of Arizona in his favorite forum, a townhall meetingake-up.

The Arizonan, who's never much liked fundraising (which helps explain McCain-Feingold) and never built the kind of national donor network of Mitt Romney, George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton, sure didn't invest 175 minutes of precious candidate time going to Muskegon, driving and standing around talking and shaking hands and being photographed there because of a mother lode of votes to be had in nearby Ferrysburg.

Unlike last year, McCain is working hard to raise money now, and his schedulers fill in the blanks with interviews and other events to attract free media coverage wherever they happen to be.

The last two months he's raised $22 million each, about $734,000 a day. That's good for McCain, especially when the Republican National Committee is raising even more funds separately to benefit his campaign.

McCain's national campaign staff is slightly less than half the size of the 800-plus-person behemoth behind Barack Obama who, some estimate, is burning through more than $40 million a month. That takes some of the shine off the $52 million he reported raising in June.

And remember, Obama's money, while seemingly plentiful every month, must last through to election day. McCain's need only endure until the Republican convention Sept. 1-4, when his $82 million in federal funding gets delivered.

Still, the Republican candidate, of all people, devoting so much time to scrounging money instead of votes this close to Nov. 4, is an ominous sign in the eyes of many professional strategists.

-- Andrew Malcolm

Photos: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

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