Advisers to Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) said yesterday they hope to make a decision this week about whether to delay the formal acceptance of Kerry's nomination for president amid concern among some Democrats that the plan could disrupt the party's national convention and hand Republicans a public relations bonanza.
Kerry advisers said lawyers and others were reviewing that idea and other options to overcome what they see as a financial advantage for President Bush for the general election campaign. Kerry officials originally said they had weeks to resolve the issue, which became public Friday, but have concluded they must move as quickly as possible to make a decision. "Obviously the level of media interest is such that we'll have to figure it out sooner rather than later," said deputy campaign manager Steve Elmendorf.
Kerry and Bush each will receive almost $75 million in public money for the fall campaign. They receive the money when they accept their nominations, or Sept. 1, whichever comes earlier. Because Kerry accepts his nomination five weeks before Bush, his advisers say he will be at a significant financial disadvantage. Kerry has been trying to tamp down concern in Boston, site of the July convention, where Mayor Thomas M. Menino and others expressed unhappiness at not being told the idea was under consideration and that it became public a day after officials announced a major shutdown of city roads and arteries during the convention.
Kerry sought to reassure city officials that the convention will not be diminished, but in an interview with the Boston Globe, he added to confusion about what his campaign was considering. "One thing I can tell you is that on Wednesday night, the [candidate for] vice president of the United States will be nominated and give a speech, and on Thursday night I will give my speech," he said. Kerry advisers could not explain how the convention could nominate a vice presidential candidate without then nominating the presidential candidate.
Campaign officials said they have received positive reactions from their convention delegates and some state party leaders, but other Democrats said privately they thought the idea was not worth the trouble. Some senior Democrats have conveyed that assessment to the highest levels of the Kerry campaign.
Republicans have questioned whether Kerry's campaign could qualify for $15 million in public convention money if the Democrats do not formally nominate a candidate. According to one GOP source, any individual could file a complaint to block Kerry from getting the money.
Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said Republicans would demand equal time from the networks if Democrats do not nominate a candidate in Boston. "We'd have rallies ourselves those nights and the networks, if they're going to cover their rallies, would have to cover ours," he said.
In Portland, Ore., yesterday, Kerry criticized the president's Iraq policy and blamed Bush for rising gas prices and their negative effect on everything from local schools to charities such as Meals on Wheels.
Kerry accused Bush of implementing a "clandestine draft" by overextending the military and forcing reservists and National Guard units into extended service in Iraq. Speaking to a small crowd of parents and teachers at a local school, Kerry said, "I believe it will take a new president of the United States to clear the air, to reestablish American credibility in the world." He added, "What I would commit to do is to restore America's relationship and alliances in a way that builds on mutual respect and mutual involvement."
Kerry is planning to make the war and national security the sole focus of his campaign for 11 days starting with a speech Thursday in Seattle. Next week, he will outline proposals for fighting terrorism and winning the war in Iraq, according to aides.
Meanwhile, Kerry continued his campaign to blame Bush for gas prices topping $2 per gallon in most cities and doing little to lower them. He trumpeted a similar message here a week ago and in California earlier this month. Kerry said he has worked to fix the problem with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who many Democrats are talking up as a possible running mate for Kerry. The two senators proposed incentives to automakers to produce alternative-fuel vehicles and tax breaks to consumers who buy them. "There is no way possible for our nation to drill its way out of this predicament," Kerry said. "We have to invent our way out of this predicament."
VandeHei reported from Portland. Staff writer Thomas B. Edsall contributed to this report.