WASHINGTON – Republican John McCain reorganized his campaign Monday, cutting staff in every department as he raised just $11.2 million in the last three months and reported an abysmal $2 million cash on hand for his presidential bid.
"We confronted reality and we dealt with it in the best way that we could so that we could move forward," said Terry Nelson, McCain's campaign manager.
Once considered the front-runner for the GOP nomination, McCain trails top Republican rivals in money and polls.
More than 50 staffers, and perhaps as many as 80 to 100, were being let go, and senior aides will be subject to pay cuts as the Arizona senator bows to six months of subpar fundraising, according to officials with knowledge of the details of the shake up. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the campaign would not publicly discuss details of the restructuring.
McCain's tally in the second financial quarter, which ended Saturday, is expected to trail those of Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, who have not yet released their totals. In the first quarter, McCain came in third and raised just $13.6 million.
Officials said the fundamental leadership of the campaign will not change; Nelson, a veteran of President Bush's winning 2004 campaign, will remain campaign manager but said he would volunteer his time instead of drawing a salary for the next few months.
At its peak, McCain's payroll covered 150 staffers; this is the second round of layoffs.
The campaign said it was seriously considering taking public matching funds, which Nelson said would amount to about $6 million. That would be a major shift in strategy for McCain and could tie the campaign's hands by limiting the amount of money it can spend in individual states.
Nelson said the campaign made "incorrect assumptions" about its fundraising ability.
"At one point, we thought we could raise $100 million over the course of this campaign and we constructed a campaign to fit that," Nelson said. That, he said, proved to be wrong.
The financial difficulties have fueled speculation that McCain would drop out of the race but he dismissed that notion Thursday, calling it "ridiculous." He argued that voters won't start paying close attention until the fall, and said: "I don't know why I would even remotely consider such a thing in the month of June, or July."
Six months before primary voting begins, McCain is struggling for some semblance of momentum.
His popularity among Republicans has dropped since the start of the year. He has become intimately linked to the unpopular Iraq war, and, in recent weeks, he's drawn criticism from already wary conservatives for his support of Bush's immigration reform bill. He declined to participate in an early test of organizational strength in the leadoff state of Iowa this summer, and, he's fighting the perception that he's yesterday's candidate.
McCain's support in national polls has slipped. He is in single digits in some surveys in Iowa and South Carolina, trailing Giuliani, the former New York mayor; Romney, the ex-governor of Massachusetts, and Fred Thompson, the actor and former Tennessee senator who's not yet in the race officially.
As 2006 ended, McCain had cast himself as the inevitable candidate and built an expansive national campaign organization that melded top operatives from Bush's political team with his own base of longtime loyalists from his failed 2000 presidential run.
But the money hasn't come in as planned, and the initial spending was excessive.
From January through March, McCain spent nearly $1.6 million on payroll for his staff, the highest among Republican candidates. Romney was second at $1.1 million and Giuliani spent nearly $900,000.
As the second financial quarter began in April, the campaign cut some consultant contracts and low-to-mid-level jobs, and revamped its finance operation.
Despite the changes, McCain's fundraising continued to lag, and officials said more staff cuts were needed to ensure he had enough money to compete in the early voting states and run television ads.
The shake-up comes as McCain embarks on his sixth trip to Iraq, where he will spend the July 4 holiday with U.S. troops. In his last visit to Iraq in April, he was widely criticized for saying he was cautiously optimistic of success even as he toured Baghdad under heavy military guard. Iraqis accused him of painting too rosy a picture and U.S. critics argued he was out of step with reality.