Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) announced yesterday that he will formally accept the Democratic presidential nomination at his party's convention in Boston this summer, jettisoning the idea of delaying acceptance to try to narrow a perceived fundraising gap with President Bush.
Less than a week after the unorthodox idea became public -- to decidedly mixed reviews -- Kerry buried consideration of the plan as his campaign weighed other options for the continuation of what has been a record-breaking period of fundraising by a Democratic presidential candidate.
Although many Kerry loyalists backed the idea, other Democrats expressed fears that it would create a controversy that might dominate the convention and lead to diminished coverage, particularly by the major television networks.
The issue arose because of the financing of the general election. Both major parties' nominees will receive about $75 million in public money for the fall campaign. Receipt of the money is triggered when the party formally nominates its candidate, or Sept. 1, whichever is earlier, and shuts off the candidates' ability to raise money on their own behalf. The Democratic convention begins on July 26, the Republican convention on Aug. 30.
Kerry advisers said he would have to spread his $75 million over an additional five weeks, while Bush could continue to raise and spend pre-convention money during the same period. They argued that the financial starting line for the fall campaign should be the same for both candidates.
Republican officials threatened to challenge Kerry's right to accept $15 million in public money earmarked for his convention and said they would demand equal time for their political rallies that week if the Democratic convention was little more than a pep rally.
The idea had also created a backlash in Boston, where city officials were dealing with the public relations problem of last week's announcement that nearly 40 miles of local roads and highways would be closed during key parts of each day of the convention.
Some senior Democrats privately told the campaign the idea was more trouble than it was worth, because there are less controversial ways to raise more money for the fall.
Yesterday afternoon, Kerry issued a statement reaffirming that he will hold a traditional convention. "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. "On Thursday, July 29, with great pride, I will accept my party's nomination for president in the city of Boston. From there we will begin our journey to a new America."
A Kerry adviser said yesterday that delaying acceptance of the nomination was first discussed late last winter, as it became clear that Kerry would be the nominee, although no one could identify who came up with the suggestion. The idea was one of several options raised. It became public Friday when the Associated Press published a story saying it was under consideration. Campaign officials said they did not leak the idea as a trial balloon, and party officials were chagrined to see it being discussed publicly. Asked why it was under discussion, a party leader said yesterday, "I don't know."
A campaign official, who declined to be identified in order to speak more freely about the decision-making process (as did other party insiders), said yesterday, "After last Friday, when the AP went with the story on it, we took a hard look at it and decided it wasn't a good idea."
Democrats chose late July for their convention because they assumed their nominee would be short of funds and would need the public money as quickly as possible. It is a measure of how dramatically the Democrats' fundraising prospects have changed that Kerry and his advisers could even consider a plan to try to keep raising pre-convention money for five additional weeks.
But campaign and party officials said there are other ways for the Kerry campaign to deal with the five-week gap created by the timing of the two conventions. The Democratic National Committee can provide the Kerry campaign $16 million in coordinated expenditures, can finance other activities and can spend unlimited amounts of money on television ads as long as they are not coordinated in any way with the Kerry campaign.
DNC Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe said the party has a record $50 million in the bank. Kerry and party officials said they will focus on raising additional money for the DNC. Kerry told WHDH in Boston he believes "that the army of volunteers who have helped to fund this campaign to this moment will rise to the occasion." And one party official said the publicity given to the idea of delaying the nomination has made rank-and-file Democrats more aware of the problem created by the timing of the conventions.
This official predicted the flap over the proposal will be little remembered by the convention. "If the decision had gone the other way, it would have dominated the convention," the official said.
The Kerry campaign got a clear warning about the possible effect on coverage Tuesday from NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw. Appearing on CNN's "Larry King Live," he said, "My personal belief is that if he announces he will not accept the nomination, that there's no good reason for NBC the network to be in Boston covering the convention."