WASHINGTON -- Bowing to pressure, John Kerry decided Wednesday to accept the nomination at the Democratic presidential convention in July, scuttling a plan to delay the formality so he could narrow President Bush's public money advantage. He turned quickly to his backup plan, issuing a statement with a blunt appeal for campaign donations that could go to national and state party organizations. The statement ended six days of controversy over an idea that was supposed to remain secret for several more weeks.
Some Kerry advisers had wanted him to forego the nomination at the convention in late July and wait five weeks until Bush accepts the Republican nod.
Once nominated, each candidate gets $75 million in public money for their general elections. With his decision, Kerry now will have to spend the same allotment over the longer period of time.
The Associated Press reported the plan before Kerry had decided whether to adopt it, causing an uproar in his home town of Boston -- site of the July 26-29 convention -- and among Democrats who feared voters would view the tactic as too political.
"I just want to get on with it. It's just a distraction," Boston Mayor Thomas Menino told CNN shortly before the decision was announced.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who had lobbied to bring the convention to Boston long before Kerry wrapped up the nomination, is "obviously pleased the matter is settled," said spokesman David Smith.
Republicans mocked Kerry, saying only the Democratic candidate could be both in favor of the nomination and against it.
Kerry's statement noted his fund-raising success and urged supporters to "accept the challenge" against Bush. The statement included a link to his campaign Web site, where donations can be made.
He promised to explore ways to level the playing field as he faces Bush's five-week advantage. Kerry officials said the most likely approach is having the candidate raise money for the Democratic National Committee and state parties, and give his excess cash to the DNC at convention time.
State and national parties could air ads against Bush during the five-week period. However, federal law allows the Kerry campaign and the party to coordinate on just $16 million, meaning Kerry will have no control over how much of the money will be spent.
DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe, whose party is usually cash-strapped in presidential election years, said he has $50 million in the bank. That gives Kerry more than one option to close the public funding gap against Bush. "We are able to sit on $50 million in the bank with the Kerry campaign raising tens of millions of dollars so we should look at all our options," he said.
Had the deliberations remained secret and Kerry had approved of the plan, he may not have announced it until shortly before the convention -- or even during it, several party officials said.
The plan raised numerous political and legal questions, such as would Kerry lose federal funding for the convention; could his running mate be nominated, but not Kerry; and would television networks and other media reduce their coverage. His decision rendered those questions moot.
On the Net:
Kerry campaign: http://www.johnkerry.com