John McCain, the one-time favourite for the Republican presidential nomination, has sharply scaled down his campaign operation after disappointing fundraising results raised fresh doubts about his bid for the White House.
Rudy Giuliani, former New York mayor and frontrunner in the race for the Republican nomination, announced that he had raised $17m in the second quarter, while Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachussets, raised $14m.
Mr McCain has cut his staff by at least a third and refocused resources on a handful of states with crucial early primary elections or caucuses but insisted he would not withdraw from the race.
The restructuring followed the release of second quarter fundraising figures that showed the Arizona Senator had brought in just $11.2m between April and June – less than the disappointing $13.6m he raised in the first quarter.
Mr McCain’s campaign has been badly damaged by his steadfast support for President George W. Bush on arguably the two most controversial issues in US politics: Iraq and immigration.
He was the only main Republican candidate to back Mr Bush’s push for an overhaul of immigration laws, which failed in Congress last week, and he has been the most vocal advocate of the “surge” strategy of increasing US troop numbers in Iraq.
The senator’s refusal to back away from two such unpopular positions has reinforced his reputation as a principled and brave politician. But the defiant stance has increasingly looked like political suicide as his poll ratings and fundraising have slumped.
Terry Nelson, Mr McCain’s campaign manager, acknowledged that “incorrect assumptions” had been made about fundraising. “At one point, we believed that we would raise over $100 million during this calendar year, and we constructed a campaign that was based on that assumption,” he said. “We believe today that that assumption is not correct.”
Mr McCain’s prospects could be dented further if, as expected, Fred Thompson, the senator-turned-actor, officially enters the race. Mr Thompson, star of the legal drama Law & Order, has overtaken Mr McCain to seize second place in most polls of likely Republican voters, behind former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, even before he has declared his candidacy.
The rise of Mr Thompson reflects widespread discontent among grassroots Republicans about the current choice of candidates. Mr Giuliani is viewed as a strong leader but his liberal views on abortion and other social issues cause angst among many conservatives. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, another frontline candidate, has shown signs of gaining momentum but he is struggling to convince voters that his newfound commitment to social conservatism is genuine.
The sense of dissatisfaction surrounding the Republican field contrasts sharply with the excitement within the Democratic party about its fiercely competitive presidential race. The two leading Democratic candidates – Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama – raised nearly $60m between them in the second quarter.