Monetizing McCain’s Assets

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My email inbox yesterday contained a surprising — even ironic — twist to the narrative about John McCain’s press relations and how they form the foundation of his campaign. Sent from the Republican National Committee’s server, the email “From the Desk of John McCain” begins with a paragraph about the candidate’s upcoming “Service to America” tour — a series of campaign road trips in Mississippi, Virginia, Florida and Arizona — “places where I have had the honor of serving our nation.” Then the email pivots:

My campaign has come up with an opportunity for a supporter to join me on the Straight Talk Express for a day of conversation and campaigning. As a token of my appreciation for your financial support, you will be entered to win this seat aboard the Straight Talk Express if you make a contribution before midnight on March 31st. I hope you’ll consider joining me by making a donation today. If you can give $50 or more, not only will you be entered to win a ride on the Straight Talk Express, but you’ll receive a commemorative Straight Talk Express ticket.

Brilliant! If McCain is, as Neal Gabler suggests in his op-ed this morning, “the first [presidential candidate] to turn his press relations into the basis of his candidacy,” and if the Straight Talk Express is, both literally and symbolically, the vehicle for McCain’s on-running dialogue with the press, then what makes more sense than to offer up a seat on the bus as a lottery prize to a lucky donor? Watch Senator McCain take reporters’ questions until your eyes glaze over! See how he winks, nods and quips the liberal media into submission!

I see nothing wrong with this gambit. First of all, according to the solicitation, it’s a lottery; the prize doesn’t go to the highest bidder. More importantly, candidates routinely trade their presence — at dinners, coffees, receptions, etc — for campaign donations. Would-be donors are often lured into contributing by the promise of having an authentic encounter with the candidate. But the truth is, all that most donors get is a handshake, a few pleasantries and a staged photograph for their office wall. The Straight Talk Express raffle offers something more — a seat at the table where the Republican nominee literally conducts the key business of his campaign, endlessly bantering with (and winking and nodding at) real reporters taking real notes and using real tape recorders. The press becomes an integral part of what McCain is selling. How ironic is that?

(P.S. I can’t find the letter itself on the RNC site, but the offer is promoted on the homepage, and here.)