Given the struggling economy, rampant Bush fatigue, and a host of other issues, any GOP candidate would seemingly have an insurmountable set of challenges to overcome this fall. John McCain’s task is even greater, in some respects, given that while he generally appeals to many moderates and independents, social conservatives (the traditionally large and influential wing of the party) have so far seen little to get excited about in his candidacy. That could be changing.
On the heels of traffic to McCain’s website jumping 90% in June, his campaign recently reported raising over $22M last month. While it comes as no surprise that his haul was well surpassed by rival Barack Obama’s $52M tally, McCain’s improved performance on several fronts in June suggests the presumptive GOP nominee is slowly starting to make inroads with a crucial GOP voting bloc.
The FaceTime chart below illustrates one of the challenges McCain faces. The FaceTime metric quantifies the total amount of time voters spend online with candidates across their official website as well as their related sites on places such as MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, and Meetup.com. Even after McCain sewed up the nomination in March, candidates no longer in the race continue to grab the attention of voters. Social conservatives Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, for example, combined to capture 14% of GOP FaceTime in June, and they haven’t been candidates for months (though their names, particularly Romney’s, continue to be mentioned as leading running mate options).
John McCain’s overtures to the "right" over the past few weeks, as well as speculation that he could choose a conservative for the ticket, is helping him attract one-time supporters of his former rivals to his camp. The chart below compares the percentage of "active" supporters of Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney (defined as those who made three or more website visits during the final two months of their respective candidacies) who visited John McCain’s website during the past couple of months. After struggling in April and May, McCain fared much better last month among these voters, attracting roughly 10% from each camp.
In the end, the race is likely to come down largely to money. The candidates’ official tallies will make the headlines, and given Obama’s base of support and McCain’s pledge to accept public financing (Obama reversed his earlier pledge to do the same), McCain is unlikely to ever approach Obama’s fundraising prowess. But there is more than one way to fund a campaign and the GOP has proven in times past and so far in this contest that it can counter, if not surpass, the Democratic party’s populist appeal by tapping well-healed donors to contribute at the state and national party levels.
Heading into the late summer, if the "right" is finally awakening from their post-primary slumber, we could have a contest after all.
As VP of Millward Brown Digital’s financial services, retail and consumer products practices, Matt is responsible for vertical growth and strategy and the delivery of digital insights and best practice marketing consulting to leading Fortune 500 advertisers. Follow Matt on Twitter @mattpace.