SANTA CLARA, Calif. — In the entrepreneurial heart of Silicon Valley, Republican presidential candidate John McCain faced a hypothetical question Monday that few struggling tech start-ups want to hear.
"Pretend for a moment that we're the venture capitalists and we've given you some money already," asked Tony Perkins of the Churchill Club, a regional business and technology group that hosted a forum for the Arizona senator. "What we're asking is what happened to plan A? And what's plan B?"
For McCain, plan A is a White House campaign that has been hemorrhaging money, sputtering in fundraising and battling intense criticism over the candidate's positions on immigration and the war in Iraq.
On Monday, as his campaign was announcing even more personnel departures, McCain answered the question by declaring that his plan B is a restructuring he vows will put him back in contention for the Republican nomination and improve his bottom line with voters.
"Plan A was that we structured the campaign in too large a fashion and too bureaucratic a fashion," McCain said at the Santa Clara gathering. "We raised some good amounts of money but we spent too much. It's not much more complicated than that.
"I'm sure you've seen enterprises that made the same mistake. And we've fixed the mistakes and we're moving on and we will have a campaign that succeeds."
But it has been a turbulent few weeks for a man who once was considered the Republican to beat. Lagging in the polls, McCain's campaign is nearly broke.
While the presidential teams of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are flush with cash - with $15 million and $12 million respectively in the bank - McCain recently reported that he has barely $2 million on hand and nearly an equal amount of debt.
Last week, McCain's campaign manager, Terry Nelson, and senior adviser, John Weaver, resigned. On Monday, his communications director, Brian Jones, and deputies Matt David and Danny Diaz, became the latest to leave.
Meeting reporters, McCain fielded numerous questions on the status of his campaign, including whether his troubles may reflect poorly on his ability to serve as president. He ebulliently brushed them off.
"Look, I understand when campaigns get into trouble that there's questions by the media," said McCain, who vowed that his scaled-down team will have his presidential bid in contention by September. "All I can say is that I'm confident that over time we will do well."
At the Silicon Valley forum, McCain, who raised $11 million in the last quarter compared to $17 million for Giuliani and nearly $14 million for Romney, acknowledged: "I'm not a good fundraiser. I fully admit."
But McCain, whose campaign has decided to use the bulk of its resources in early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, said nobody at recent town hall meetings in New Hampshire cared to ask him about his fundraising.
"I would point out that at the town hall meetings I don't get any questions about my campaign," he told reporters. "I get questions about health care, about the war and about all the other issues that affect their daily lives."
McCain came to Silicon Valley on Monday to talk about his resolve to fight global warming with pro-business solutions and his determination to avoid a precipitous pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq that he believes would result in a catastrophe of bloodshed.
He said he opposes legislation introduced Friday by Republican colleagues, Sen. John Warner of Virginia and Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, that would require President Bush to produce a plan to markedly reduce the U.S. troop presence in Iraq.
"That's the same strategy that we were using, which failed. Train the Iraqis and then withdraw," McCain said. "It failed. In fact, it failed miserably and will fail again."
McCain argued for continued support of the current troop surge in Iraq, arguing that an announced pullout "will mean genocide or catastrophe." He asked: "Are we supposed to withdraw to enclaves outside of Baghdad and watch it happen?"
McCain, who has paid a political price as he has been characterized as a staunch supporter of Bush's Iraq policy, stressed Monday that he had been "the most severe critic of three years of failed policy" by the Bush administration in its handling of the invasion and aftermath.
He said he is still the maverick candidate who ran for president in 2000 - notably pointing out that his independence may be costing him in his own party.
"If being pro-immigration reform is appealing to the (Republican) base, I would be surprised," McCain said. "If being in favor of stem cell research is appealing to the base, I would be surprised. I just do what I believe is right."