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Obama to Reject Public Funds for Election

Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), a co-sponsor of the bill, called Obama's decision "a mistake" but added: "I look forward to working on this and a wide range of other reform issues with him when he becomes president."

Yesterday, McCain cleared his schedule to visit the scene of extensive Midwestern flooding, but his trip was overshadowed by Obama's announcement, which has the potential to change the shape of the race.

As if to underscore his financial advantage, Obama released his first national television ad yesterday, a 60-second spot that will run in potential swing states, including Missouri, Florida and Pennsylvania, as well as in Alaska, Montana and North Carolina -- states that McCain needs to carry to win.

McCain brushed aside the suggestion that Obama's potential money edge will hurt his prospects. "That doesn't worry me," he told reporters in Iowa.

Although campaign finance issues rank low on lists of voter concerns, the McCain team pounced on Obama's move, along with his rejection of the 10 town hall meetings that McCain has proposed, as evidence that his claim to represent a "new politics" is empty rhetoric. The campaign circulated Obama quotes praising public financing and accused him of breaking his pledge to negotiate the issue with the GOP nominee. McCain spokesman Brian Rogers dismissed an account by Obama aides of recent talks between the two camps on the issue, saying it was "flat-out false."

"He's broken his word," said Charles R. Black Jr., a top McCain adviser. "He said he believes in the new politics; to me it sounds like the old politics. If you're going to change politics in America, that's a step backward."

But Republicans conceded privately that Obama's decision puts them at a disadvantage. McCain has attended dozens of fundraisers since he clinched the nomination in March, averaging close to one event per day. He appeared in Chicago on Wednesday night at an event that raised more than $1 million, and he met with donors in Minneapolis yesterday. Next week's schedule includes two fundraisers in California, two in Ohio and one in Las Vegas. McCain's wife, Cindy, will join Henry A. Kissinger for an event with U.S. expatriates in London.

McCain's campaign is also bracing for a huge wave of spending from labor unions and other Democratic-aligned groups.

"I assume he's going to outspend us," Black said of Obama. "We don't have to spend as much as he does to win."

Obama's announcement was not unexpected. Months ago, he began to shift away from an early pledge to "pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election."

After securing the Democratic nomination this month, Obama moved quickly to impose his own stringent fundraising restrictions on the Democratic National Committee, ordering it to stop accepting donations from federal lobbyists and political action committees, and he has discouraged his donors from contributing to liberal independent political organizations, called 527 groups, that are expected to hammer McCain in the fall.

"John McCain's campaign and the Republican National Committee are fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs," Obama said in his message to supporters yesterday. "And we've already seen that he's not going to stop the smears and attacks from his allies running so-called 527 groups, who will spend millions and millions of dollars in unlimited donations."

To date, no conservative 527 groups have materialized. But Obama portrayed his call as a preemptive strike.

"From the very beginning of this campaign, I have asked my supporters to avoid that kind of unregulated activity and join us in building a new kind of politics -- and you have," Obama said. ". . . I'm asking you to try to do something that's never been done before."

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