040907mccain.jpgSenator John McCain, long seen as a likely favorite on the Republican side in the 2008 US presidential race, is scrambling to overhaul his campaign strategy as he lags in fundraising and in the polls.

With disappointing fundraising data just out and 19 months still to go before the 2008 vote, McCain’s campaign chief has pledged to do whatever it takes to battle back.

“Although we are pleased with the organization we’ve built and polls show us strongly positioned in key primary states, we had hoped to do better in first quarter fundraising,” Terry Nelson said of the 12.5 million dollars the team raised in the first quarter of 2007.

“We are already in the process of taking the necessary steps to ensure fundraising success moving forward,” he added.

The amount raised puts McCain in the presidential pack yet light years behind the funds brought in by Democratic favorites Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (26 million and 25 million respectively).

It also is far behind the top Republican fundraising candidate, former businessman Mitt Romney, who has netted almost 21 million, or 23 million counting money he has invested personally.

“It’s a troubling sign for McCain because his aura of inevitability has already sustained a good deal of damage,” said John Pitney, a professor at Claremont McKenna College.

Packing new accounting methods, fresh strategy and setting a date of April 25-27 for a tour to officially announce his candidacy, the McCain team is making it clear they are not giving up the fight.

McCain himself has tried to downplay any sign of vulnerability.

“It’s my fault. I haven’t done a very good job at (fundraising). I’m not very good at it, and I hope to get better,” he told NBC television.

“We’re happy with where we are, but we have some improvements to make. But in many areas, we’re very happy with the progress; in others, we’ve got a long way to go.”

Even just a few weeks ago, McCain, who never gave up his presidential ambitions after President George W. Bush defeated him in the 2000 party primary, had seemed unbeatable on the Republican side.

A Vietnam War hero with an accomplished career as a lawmaker over 20 years in Congress, McCain was the only Republican to take on the Bush administration and press it to explicitly renounce torture. He appeared certain to be anointed as the party’s presidential pick.

But competition from popular former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, a determined Romney, and the hugely unpopular war in Iraq — seen as a mistake by about 60 percent of Americans — have knocked the wind out of McCain’s sails.

He is the Republican candidate most supportive of the war in Iraq — though he has harshly criticized Bush’s handling of it — and is a staunch supporter of sending more US troops there, a move Bush announced in January.

McCain drew fire from the media, which were stunned to hear him welcome the improvement of conditions in Iraq when he visited the country last weekend.

He seems ready to pay the price for his sometimes unpopular stands on the war, however.

“I can’t worry about the effect on my political ambitions of the war. It’s too important. Too many young people have sacrificed already. I’d much rather lose a campaign than lose a war,” he told MSNBC.

Giuliani told CNN of McCain on Wednesday: “I don’t expect to remain ahead of him for long. He is a very, very strong competitor and a really great guy.”

Copyright © 2007 Agence France Presse

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