An insider’s story: Why Barack Obama was not Swift Boated

Here’s one about the Swift Boat that didn’t happen, related by Republican adman Larry McCarthy at a California Chamber of Commerce post-election gathering this week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla.

As the Democratic National Convention was beginning, a newly formed group, American Issues Project, launched an ad that sought to tie Barack Obama to his Chicago acquaintance, Weather Underground founder Bill Ayers.

AyersTexas billionaire Harold Simmons, who helped pay for the devastating Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry in 2004, paid almost $3 million to air the spot in battleground states.

American Issues Project was intended to serve the function in 2008 that Swift Boat and a few other groups filled four years ago — that is, to derail the Democratic nominee.

McCarthy, one of the Republicans’ most skillful ad producers, put the spot together, and was prepared to do many more.

As it turned out, however, American Issues Project raised about $7 million, a tenth of what was raised by independent groups in 2004 against Kerry and for President Bush.

“There simply wasn’t the donor base to support it,” McCarthy said.

And there are some rather interesting ….

…reasons why not.

One, the federal campaign finance law that John McCain helped write has made it increasingly difficult to fund independent campaigns legally. Thus, McCain’s own law was used against him.

Two, some of the biggest would-be donors on the Republican side saw their net worth fall by significantly in the Wall Street debacle.

Perhaps more interesting, big money people who might have had the stomach for spending big money on such spots simply did not much like McCain.

“None of them had any warmth for McCain,” he said. “Traditional Republican givers didn’t like McCain.”

Here is a final reason: Although many big money people oppose Obama’s policies, “there was no visceral dislike for Obama.”

What if Hillary Clinton had been the Democratic nominee? “I think Hillary would have stirred more giving,” he said.

–Dan Morain

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Photo: Bill Ayers in 1968. Credit: Chicago Historical Society

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