Kerry decides against delaying acceptance

Democrat rejects tactic to continue fund raising after Boston convention

May 27, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

SEATTLE - Sen. John Kerry announced yesterday that he would accept the Democratic nomination at his party's convention in Boston in July, abandoning the idea of a strategic delay to narrow President Bush's substantial financial advantage.

The idea of a delay, first floated last week, dismayed many Democrats in Boston, Kerry's hometown, where the convention is both a source of pride and considerable cost and inconvenience. Republicans mocked the idea as another exercise in Kerry indecision, and in the end, campaign advisers said the issue became too much of a distraction.

Kerry cast his decision yesterday as a bow to hometown pride. "Boston is the place where America's freedom began, and it's where I want the journey to the Democratic nomination to be completed," he said.

But he added: "We will continue to explore every way possible to level the playing field" against the Republicans.

The decision was a costly one for the Massachusetts Democrat because of federal campaign finance rules.

Both Bush and Kerry, who have run their primary campaigns on private contributions, are expected to rely on public financing for the general election - about $75 million each. But campaigns must stop fund raising when a candidate is officially nominated and accepts public money. Because the Democratic convention is five weeks earlier than the Republican one, Bush can continue to spend private contributions and preserve his public campaign funds for nearly a month.

The decision also means Kerry will lose five weeks of private fund raising, which could be worth $30 million if the campaign's recent fund-raising pace continued. Many Democrats said it was too much money to walk away from. "You can't leave that kind of money laying on the table," Steve Jarding, a Democratic strategist who has worked for Kerry, said earlier this week.

But a Kerry strategist said the idea, in the end, "distracts you from talking about national security, it distracts you from talking about a lot of things." The proposal caught many Democrats off guard, including many in Boston, and generated a much harsher reaction as a result.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said in an interview that he was "frustrated" when he learned of it on Friday. He said he spoke to Kerry's convention coordinator, Jack Corrigan, and to Kerry on Monday to voice opposition to the idea.

"There was a lot of concern by a lot of people in my business who thought it wasn't the wisest move of all," Menino said. "Let me just say that.

"I don't know if I'm the one who convinced him, but I think he realized that it put a cloud over the campaign. I told him that the politics of it was - we're close to it here - I told him it was a bad political move because I think politics in America today is all about dollars and cents, and it shouldn't be. It should be about what you're going to do for the American people."

To compensate for the financial disadvantage, Democrats are expected to work harder to raise money through the national party, which can continue to solicit after the campaign must stop.

The Democratic National Committee has long been gearing up to counteract Bush's advantage. Kerry moved several top members of his financial team into the organization this year, and they have since been starting new programs and recruiting donors and fund-raisers to increase the party's collections.

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