Kerry, The Non-Nominee?

If the Kerry campaign's idea of a party convention that doesn't produce an official nominee is a trial balloon, let's all take a pin to it now.

On Friday, the typical day in the Washington news cycle for testing wild and woolly ideas that may slide by Americans over the weekend, the Kerry camp said it was considering an unprecedented step.

In order to level the campaign-finance playing field, it suggested that John Kerry might not accept the nomination during the Democratic convention in Boston at the end of July. If he did accept then, it would trigger a new phase of the campaign in which he could no longer use privately raised money from the primary season, and instead be restricted to $75 million in public funds to run his general election campaign. President Bush is also expected to take the $75 million after he is nominated, but that won't be until the start of September - giving him a five-week money advantage over Kerry.

Astonishingly, Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter says "there probably wouldn't be any downside" to postponing either the technical nomination of her boss or his acceptance of it, except that the media might not give the non-nominating "convention" the play it would otherwise have.

This analysis illustrates the extent to which the drive for dollars can drive all common sense from campaigns. If the Kerry camp has trouble visualizing downside, here's help.

What a slap to the convention's hosts, the people who live in the Boston area, who won't be allowed to use a section of the downtown Interstate, or some commuter rail lines, because of security concerns. So they have to accommodate that just for a political pep rally?

The bigger issue, however, is the appearance that Kerry is trying to get around rules he doesn't like. Even if it turned out that this plan would pass legal muster (and that is yet to be determined), what does it say about the leadership of America's potential next president - that he would rather skirt the system than try to fix it?

Hard-core Democrats, who are desperate to unseat Bush, may support the level-playing-field argument. But one has to doubt that independents and swing voters will. And besides, Kerry is holding his own against Bush, even though his record fund-raising still falls short of the Bush total. This illustrates that issues still play a role, and that money is perhaps not all it is cracked up to be.

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