(CNN) - It's no secret that John McCain has trouble raising money. At least the kind of cash that his earlier Republican rivals did - and the amounts his likely competitor for the White House, Barack Obama can.
In the month of April, McCain took in nearly $18 million - an impressive amount to be sure, and a personal best - but Obama's haul was a whopping $31 million. It's because of a major Democratic breakthrough: a fundraising base of individual small donors.
But ask McCain adviser Carly Fiorina why he can't generate the same campaign cash of his rivals, and you get the sort of sleight-of-hand answer she gave us today on American Morning. "The RNC raised over $40 million in April, which is ten times the rate of the Democratic National Committee and that's important because Senator McCain has access to those total funds", said Fiorina. "That's true," I responded, "the RNC has a lot of cash." But why is it that McCain can't attract the same response among individual donors that his predecessors did?
Fiorina: "Well, I hate to keep correcting you, but in truth, the RNC is raising money very specifically for the presidential campaign, and by the rules, the money that the RNC raises can be used for the presidential campaign."
It's the type of non-answer we may expect to hear more as McCain will clearly have to rely on the awesome fundraising power of the Republican National Committee to help him keep pace with the Democratic nominee.
He's rolling out the fundraiser-in-chief this week to help out, but McCain seems to be taking Rep. Tom Davis's remarks that President Bush is "radioactive" to heart and keeping him below the radar. Politico's Mike Allen reported that big fundraisers planned for the Phoenix Convention Center and the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City have been shelved in favor of smaller functions at private residences. I asked Fiorina about the change. "There will be occasions where they appear together," she said, "but there will be, frankly, more occasions where they appear apart because John McCain is running for the future presidency and most people vote on the future, actually."
If the present is any indication, McCain needs to keep the past under wraps if he hopes to have a future. President Bush's disapproval rating sits at 71 percent in the latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll.
With McCain counting on independents and independent-minded Democrats to vault him into the Oval Office, many Republicans believe that the best place for President Bush is well below the treeline, working party faithful, 65 percent of whom still have faith in him.
Can McCain fix his money problem? Will the Democratic campaigns come together at the end of the primary season to combine their fundraising muscle? Will McCain have the playing field leveled by an agreement from the Democratic candidate to take public financing? The last question is the only one that currently has a likely answer: No. Which means McCain has a lot of work ahead.