The Griffith defection was a huge coup for the GOP. Not because it was so significant in itself. It's only one vote and for a Dem the guy comes from an extremely conservative district in a red state. But it came out of the blue and looked likely to catalyze a lot of free-floating anxiety (among Dems) and expectation (among Republicans) that 2010 is going to be a decisively bad year for the Democratic party.
Only they didn't get quite the pop they wanted from it. Partly, it's just before Christmas. But more than that Health Care Reform is still the story dominating everything else. I don't know how many red state Dems the GOP is actively courting with any prospect of success. But the key here isn't just to get more seats -- after all, the reason a party convinces someone to switch seats is almost always because the party was going to win the seat anyway in the next election. It's much more to create dissension and demoralization in Democratic ranks. So they came up with someone to give the story a second day on stage.
McCain calls Carney. He apparently doesn't even get him on the phone but leaves a voicemail. Then a "GOP operative", quite possibly the same guy who handed McCain the phone (but who knows?) calls up reporter friend at the Politico and gives them the scoop. Then Politico writes up the story.
As I wrote earlier, if you really think you're about to bag this guy, the last -- and I mean, the last -- thing you do is leak it to the press in an early stage of the negotiation. Because you need to catch the other side off guard because they have a chance to either cajole or bully the officeholder back on to the reservation.
Maybe they'll pull three party switchers out of their hat. But this was a pretty garden variety stunt. A telling moment for McCain.