McClatchy asks, “Where is the Republican Attack Machine this campaign?”

Of course, there is this sentence buried in this really exceptional story (the best that has appeared on this subject anywhere):

Of course, they still could jump in at any time, thanks to their ability to raise cash fast with a few huge checks.

Also interesting is the fact that this election cycle’s would be Swift Boaters are sitting it out because they are afraid of losing their corporate clients. Who would have thought that the political operatives who distort and twist and lie would put profit ahead of their political pursuits?

Here is a long excerpt from the story:

WASHINGTON — Democrats and the media have used the term so much that it’s almost an article of faith. But the so-called “Republican attack machine” waiting with piles of unregulated cash to chew up Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is anything but.

Obama cited the threat of unregulated attack groups — called “527s” because they’re authorized to raise unlimited cash under that section of the Internal Revenue Service code — to justify dropping his pledge to take public financing — along with its spending limits — for the general election campaign.

Yet there’s no 2008 equivalent to the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which spent $22 million attacking Democrat John Kerry. Prominent groups and donors that played key roles in independent conservative 527 groups four years ago say they’re sitting out this election. And while they’ve raised more than they did at this point four years ago, the independent pro-Republican groups still lag more than $50 million behind pro-Democratic groups.

Why? Analysts and Republican insiders point to several reasons:

_ Contributors are nervous about increased federal regulation.

_ Those who operate such groups fear a backlash, including from their better-paying corporate clients, who may not want to be associated with such attacks.

_ Few are eager to take such risks to help John McCain, who’s bashed such efforts in the past and could again.

Of course, they still could jump in at any time, thanks to their ability to raise cash fast with a few huge checks.

“These groups can pop up overnight because they can take unlimited contributions from almost anybody,” said Massie Ritsch, the communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that analyzes money in politics.

“Just because they’re not doing anything now doesn’t mean they won’t jump out of the shadows.”

At this stage four years ago, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth had been up and running for more than a month, ripping Kerry’s Vietnam record. It started airing its big ads that August.

Another pro-Republican group, Progress for America, aired its first ad criticizing Kerry’s national-security record and credentials four years ago this week, the first $1 million salvo of what would be a $35 million barrage in key states.

Today, there are no such groups on the Republican side.

DCI Group, a public affairs firm that ran Progress for America in 2004, said this week that it won’t do any political work this campaign and instead will focus entirely on clients including corporations, trade associations and nonprofits.

“We are not participating in 527 activities in the presidential election,” DCI spokesman Geoff Basye said.

Freedom’s Watch, another conservative group, so far has decided to skip the presidential campaign to focus on congressional contests. “We have no plans to get involved,” spokesman Ed Patru said.

Earlier: TPM Election Central: “John Kerry: Obama’s Public Financing Decision Will Enable Him to Avoid My Fate.”

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