Deep-six this idea

May 25, 2004

THE JOHN KERRY campaign boasted last week that the Democratic presidential candidate beat President Bush by 2-to-1 in money raised during April and by nearly that much for the two months that the pair have effectively been competing head to head.

All that cash must have gone to his advisers' heads. How else to explain their absurd proposal that he delay accepting the party's nomination until well after the Democratic National Convention in order to keep that spigot of private contributions open as long as possible?

Any benefit Mr. Kerry might gain in trying to further close the still-yawning gap between his resources and those of Mr. Bush would be more than offset by robbing his own nominating convention of its only remaining shred of purpose.

Long gone are the days when any suspense about who would be nominated for the top of a presidential ticket remained by the time convention delegates gathered. Not even vice presidential nominees are much of a surprise anymore, though Mr. Kerry has yet to reveal his own choice of running mate.

As a practical matter, party conventions now serve mostly to rally the faithful and showcase the nominee.

For nonincumbents, these formal introductions to the electorate are particularly important: It's their chance to explain who they are and what they stand for, to reveal personal qualities or histories they hope will draw voters to their cause. They generally have the spotlight to themselves for a week.

Mr. Kerry seems especially in need of this opportunity to define himself because the Bush campaign used its early financial advantage so effectively to do the job for him. His years in the Senate were mined for votes that looked like conflicting positions to tag him with the label "flip-flopper," which is sticking like gum on a shoe.

And yet the Kerry camp would turn its convention into just another campaign appearance so the candidate can continue raising and spending private funds until after the Republican convention in late August when Mr. Bush, too, will be covered by restrictions that come with accepting public funds for the general election campaign.

Proposing such a cynical tactic not only acknowledges that nominating conventions are meaningless but also suggests that the process for public financing of presidential campaigns is so broken it deserves to be gamed.

This is not a winning message no matter how much money is behind it. Mr. Kerry should publicly dismiss this boneheaded scheme, and announce instead that he will work with the Republicans to repair the presidential campaign financing process so the 2008 candidates will have rules clearly worth honoring.

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