Officially, at least, John Kerry, who opted out of public financing in the primaries, is not going to opt out in the fall.

But it doesn't seem to be quite a done deal.

JFK, you may recall, flirted with the idea of not formally accepting the nomination in Boston -- a sort of didn't-inhale approach to a national convention -- so he could delay the ticking clock on spending his $75 million in federal funds. The media trashed the idea, and Kerry backed off. But the problem didn't go away.

The problem is that Kerry has to start relying on his government check July 29, while President Bush can keep spending barrels of private money until his check arrives after the New York convention in early September.

If Kerry blows off public financing a second time, he solves that problem but risks a political backlash -- not to mention a fiscal arms race with the president, who would most likely do the same.

The senator's huge fundraising success during the spring is what makes this move even a possibility. But not only would he get hammered for blowing up what remains of the Watergate-era reform of public financing, he'd have to spend valuable campaign-trail time begging for dollars.

If Kerry sticks with the status quo, he has to make his 75 mil last for 14 weeks -- including the cost of TV ads -- while Bush can tap his cash over nine weeks.

Would opting out be worth it? Or are some things in a campaign more important than money?

The Note | http://abcnews.go.com/sections/politics/TheNote/TheNote.html says a Kerry opt-out "is unlikely at this point," but adds: "Top campaign officials have worried privately and publicly what would happen if George W. Bush decided to opt out -- although the president's campaign insists it won't do so and would only re-evaluate if Kerry did so. . . .

"ABC's Marc Ambinder talked to a half dozen top Kerry fundraisers yesterday, including two who would be a big part of any effort to raise the $75 million plus.

"They were skeptical that Kerry would eventually decide to do it and sounded these themes about why doing so would be difficult:

"--convincing the same folks to part with $2,000 more (Campaign finance laws allow nomination-season donors to give again after the conventions for the general election.)

"--crowding out fundraising efforts for Democrats running for Senate and the House

"--the notion that 'campaign finance reformer' Kerry would uptend the system and be seen at fundraisers during the very presidential general election period

"--the resources and overhead that would be required to do it

"--the simple idea that the campaign would be throwing away $75 million.

"That said, they were unanimous in saying that raising the money itself wouldn't be the problem -- but the crowding effects on other fundraising efforts, the political issue of eschewing the tradition of public financing, and the logistics involved might make doing so cost prohibitive."

The pros outweigh the cons, argues Marisa Katz in the New Republic | http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=express&s=katz071304:

"Just because Kerry can do it doesn't mean he should. There are, after all, a few drawbacks. First, a privately funded campaign fuelled by big checks could be vulnerable to the criticism that it is beholden to special interests. Second, a decision by Kerry to opt out might encourage Bush to opt out as well -- and thus initiate a general election fundraising war with no upper limit, a war that Republicans would almost certainly win.

"Third, turning down public funds could cause resentment among other office-seeking Democrats, who have been hoping to tap into Kerry's surplus when he switches over to public money. . . . In addition, opting out could provoke the ire of campaign finance reformers.

"That said, all these dangers are navigable. To avoid the special interest criticism, the campaign could make a big push on the Internet and publicize the proportion of its funds raised through small donations. To limit the enticement for Bush to opt out, as well as resentment within the Democratic Party, Kerry could promise to abide by a self-imposed $75-million cap after the Republican convention -- and to pass anything over that number to the Democratic National Committee for races lower on the ticket."

There was more value-laden rhetoric on the campaign trail yesterday, as the Boston Globe | http://www.boston.com/news/politics/president/bush/articles/2004/07/14/bush_kerry_spar_on_values_issues/ reports:

"The Kerry and Bush presidential campaigns spent yesterday trading salvos over 'values' issues that have been in the political spotlight lately, as Republicans called for Senator John F. Kerry to release a videotape of a raunchy New York celebrity fund-raiser, and the Democratic side replied by demanding that President Bush release his complete military service records and the minutes of a White House energy task force.

"Kerry's advisers also released a state-by-state analysis of job losses and wage decreases, pounding the Bush administration with its own prediction, in early 2001, that some 6 million jobs would be created in the president's first term; the US economy has had a net loss of about 1 million jobs over that time. The Bush team fought back, saying its policies stimulated the economy and helped Wall Street rebound from its steep falloff two years ago."

The theme of the Beantown Bash is set:

"With the backdrop of the war in Iraq, the four-day Democratic National Convention will focus on the public service experiences of Senator John Kerry, the presumed presidential nominee, and his running mate, Senator John Edwards, with a particular emphasis on Mr. Kerry's military experience," says the New York Times | http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/13/politics/campaign/13CND-DEMS.html?hp.

"The convention, which opens in Boston on July 26, will carry the theme 'Stronger at Home, Respected in the World,' party leaders announced yesterday in Washington, and will feature several party stalwarts, including two former presidents, and family members of Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards.

What a surprise, since Kerry's been using that line in his speeches and ads.

A new Washington Post | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A46366-2004Jul13.html poll has mixed results on Bush and terror:

"The survey found that 55 percent of all Americans currently approve of the way Bush is handling the campaign against terrorism, up 5 points in the past three weeks. Slightly more than half -- 51 percent -- also said they trust Bush more than Kerry to deal with terrorism, while 42 percent prefer the Democrat. Three weeks ago, the two were tied on this crucial voting issue, which ranks with the economy and the situation in Iraq as top concerns this presidential election.

"But other results were less favorable for the president and underscored the growing unease with the war in Iraq and the current state of the U.S.-led international war on terrorism.

"For the first time in Post polls this year, fewer than half of the country -- 46 percent -- say the United States is winning the war on terrorism, down eight points since April. Thirty-eight percent say the United States is losing the terrorism fight, a new high in Post surveys and up 11 points since March."

Could the gay marriage amendment be backfiring? Here's the Chicago Tribune's | http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0407140358jul14,1,2113209.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed take:

"When Senate Republicans recently announced their intent to vote on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, it seemed to be a political coup likely to divide the opposition, embarrass Democrats and put presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry in a tough spot.

"But with a vote on the amendment scheduled for Wednesday, it is the Republicans who find themselves in disarray and scrambling to salvage something out of the fight. As the debate has progressed, it has become clear that supporters would fall far short of the votes needed for passage, potentially signaling the political weakness of their cause rather than its strength.

"The original amendment, proposed by Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), is garnering so little support that some Republicans have proposed a more moderate alternative. That has split GOP senators into two factions. On Tuesday the Republicans found themselves blocking a vote on their own proposal, simply to keep it from facing an embarrassing defeat."

Talk about playing with fire.

I doubt most people care about platforms, but Rich Lowry | http://nationalreview.com/lowry/lowry200407130832.asp pounces on this line in the Democratic draft:

" 'People of good will disagree about whether America should have gone to war in Iraq.'

"What to make of a political party that doesn't officially have a position on the biggest policy question in our politics? The Democratic-platform language on Iraq is almost meaningless. People of good will disagree about most everything, up to and including abortion and child labor -- yet the Democrats manage to have positions on those issues. Iraq war, yes or no? The Democrats answer with a definite maybe.

"This campaign will witness a stark battle of dueling strategic viewpoints. President Bush's radical new national-security doctrine is 'preemption.' John Kerry's is 'cognitive dissonance.' The Massachusetts senator is a dovish-hawk or hawkish-dove depending on which set of feathers might suit his particular political circumstance at the moment, molting on command to avoid following any given statement to what might reasonably be considered its logical conclusion."

The Wall Street Journal editorial page picks up on the Edwards tax shelter issue, which has gotten almost no traction in the mainstream press:

"It turns out that the Kerrys and Edwards have exploited plenty of tax loopholes over the years. Of course, nobody is obligated to pay more than what the letter of the law requires. But the complex tax code benefits the wealthy, who can afford tax attorneys and complicated schemes to skirt the law. And high marginal rates give them plenty of incentive to do so.

"Senator Edwards talks about the need to provide health care for all, but that didn't stop him from using a clever tax dodge to avoid paying $591,000 into the Medicare system. While making his fortune as a trial lawyer in 1995, he formed what is known as a 'subchapter S' corporation, with himself as the sole shareholder. . . .

"Senator Kerry's personal finances are not so complicated, since most of his income comes from his government salary and a modest inheritance. But he owes his jet-setting lifestyle and indeed some of his political success to the wealth of his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry. . . . Mrs. Heinz Kerry's finances remain largely a closed book, since she has so far refused to release her tax returns. What we do know so far is that she has prepaid $750,000 in federal taxes on $5.1 million in income for 2003 -- an effective tax rate of 15%. That is because a significant portion of the income came from tax-free municipal bonds, which is perfectly legal."

NBC's First Read | http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3626796/ sees a convention pothole for the Democratic standard-bearer:

"Kerry's centrist convention themes are not without pitfalls for him. As his campaign touts Ron Reagan's expected speech on stem cell research, no one has asked Kerry about the apparent conflict between his position on stem cell research and his recently stated belief that life begins at conception. Kerry recently went to great pains to explain how he is personally opposed to abortion. His position on stem cell research has no such nuances thus far. And apparently he told Reagan, per the New York Daily News, that his first act as president would be to sign an executive order reversing the Bush stem cell policy."

InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds | http://instapundit.com/, citing a Time poll, declares "I TOLD YOU SO":

"As I've been saying, calling John Edwards a 'trial lawyer' may fire up the base, but it's not a recipe for swinging undecided voters:

"Having been a trial lawyer does not appear to be a significant problem for Edwards. 35% say this makes them more favorable to Edwards compared to 28% who say less favorable. Even more striking, 55% say that his trial lawyer experience shows that Edwards fights for the average person against big companies, while only 26% say that his trial lawyering contributed to the frivolous lawsuit problem. Seventy-nine percent of Democrats, 54% of Independents, and 32% of Republicans say that Edwards litigator background shows that he is someone who fights for the average person.

"It's going to take more than repeated invocations of 'John Edwards is a sleazy trial lawyer' if the Republicans want to turn people against him."

Gay activists are threatening to out closeted Republican staffers whose bosses vote for the anti-gay marriage amendment (the effort has claimed one victim already). Andrew Sullivan | http://www.andrewsullivan.com, who's both gay and conservative, denounces the effort:

"The people perpetrating it are the usual suspects -- people who are only truly happy when persecuting others. The viciousness of the campaign, the way it demonizes individuals whose own consciences are unknowable to any outsider, is a mark of authoritarianism and cruelty. You cannot force people to be honorable, let alone heroes. You cannot force people to have self-respect.

"I do believe, however, that those gay men and women who are supporting some Senators in this war against gay citizens are acting dishonorably. I can see compromises that are inevitable in politics -- even on the issue of marriage. But the Constitutional Amendment seems to me to be in a class of its own. It's an unprecedented attack on the citizenship of an entire minority of Americans. On a personal level, I try and persuade closeted gays working for the homophobic parts of the GOP -- I know some who are even working for Ralph Reed, for goodness's sake -- to stand up against this, to quit if they are required to go along, and at the very least to come out to their bosses and make a case internally. But if they cannot do this, it is their loss. In the end, we will all have to live with our consciences."

Red- and blue-state America now has red and blue movies, the New York Times | http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/13/movies/13BOXO.html discovers:

"The two most surprising hit movies of 2004 -- Michael Moore's Bush-bashing documentary 'Fahrenheit 9/11' and Mel Gibson's religious epic 'The Passion of the Christ' -- offer an intriguing opportunity to examine the polarities among moviegoing Americans. . . .

"The top theaters for 'Fahrenheit' have been in urban, traditionally Democratic strongholds, including Manhattan, Los Angeles, San Francisco and the Bay Area, Chicago and Boston.

"The highest grossing theaters for 'Passion' were typically more suburban and far more widely dispersed, from Texas and New Mexico to Ohio, Florida and Orange County, Calif."

Finally, a corruption case included here for its sheer entertainment value:

"The top fund-raiser for New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey hired a New York City prostitute to seduce a key witness in a federal fraud case -- and then sent a steamy videotape of the encounter to the witness' wife, prosecutors said yesterday.

"In a scenario right out of a pulp crime novel," the New York Post | http://nypost.com/news/regionalnews/24964.htm says, "real-estate developer Charles Kushner -- who was aware he was being pursued by the feds for tax fraud and illegal campaign contributions -- personally offered the hooker up to $10,000 to do the dirty deed on tape with the witness, U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said.

"The witness is a former Kushner employee and the husband of one of Kushner's close relatives, Christie said. The wife is also a cooperating witness in the federal case against Kushner.

"Kushner, 50, turned himself in yesterday and pleaded not guilty to witness tampering, obstruction of justice and promoting interstate prostitution."

These folks play rough, huh?