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Kerry justifies idea of nomination delay

Page full of 2 -- WASHINGTON -- John F. Kerry yesterday defended the idea of leaving the Democratic National Convention in July without a formal nomination as his party's presidential candidate, saying that there is ample political precedent to support it and that Republicans are complaining about the move because "someone might have a way of neutralizing their advantage."

The Massachusetts senator told the Globe: "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."

Asked if it would be a nomination acceptance or merely a party address, Kerry winked and leaned back in his seat as his campaign charter jet flew from Hanscom Field to Dulles International Airport outside the nation's capital.

At the same time, two prominent campaign finance watchdogs questioned whether it would be legal for the host committee to spend $15 million in federal funds to stage the Democratic National Convention if the event does not produce Kerry's nomination.

"I think there is a very strong case here that it would be illegal," said Fred Wertheimer, who runs a campaign finance organization called Democracy 21. "They received the money to conduct a nominating convention, and a nominating convention tends to include the concept of a nominee. At a minimum, they face real legal questions."

Representative Martin T. Meehan of Lowell, a fellow Democrat and coauthor of the country's new campaign finance law, agreed that the $15 million is at risk. "The question is whether it could be made up in private contributions," the congressman said.

The Kerry campaign is considering delaying his formal nomination until around the time of the Republican National Convention, which begins Aug. 30. Both candidates in the general election are eligible for $75 million in public funding to run their campaigns. But to accept that money, they must cease any other fund-raising once nominated by the delegates at their national convention.

In Kerry's case, that would occur July 29. For President Bush, that would occur on Sept. 2. Since Kerry would have to make his cash last five weeks longer than Bush, his aides are investigating whether he could attend the convention but have delegates delay nomination until Sept. 1, so he and Bush would enter the final sprint to Election Day with equal funds.

In the interview, however, Kerry indicated he may not end up cash-poor even if he sticks with the scheduled nomination date in July. "Who said I have to spend it?" Kerry asked, referring to his $75 million allocation. "There's all kinds of variations. All I'm saying to you is we're looking at it. I have no specific comment about it at all."

The Kerry campaign is studying alternatives, including the use of a lesser-publicized option that would enable individuals to give as much as $57,500 to national and state parties for advertising that would independently boost Kerry's candidacy. While individuals are allowed to give no more than $2,000 to Kerry for the primary campaign, Wertheimer said they can give an additional $25,000 to the national party and $10,000 to state parties, with an overall two-year limit of $57,500.

Meanwhile, Kerry's staff is also trying to determing whether the national and state Democratic parties, given those limits, would be able to collect enough money to overcome the financial advantage that the Bush campaign would have otherwise.

Kerry dismissed Republican threats to ask for equal air time on television during the week of the Democratic convention if he decides to delay his nomination. Without a nomination, said Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel, the Boston convention would be a political pep rally, and Bush-Cheney '04 "would certainly be interested in receiving network coverage for four days worth of Bush-Cheney '04 pep rallies."

The senator chuckled at the criticism.

"Once again, the Republicans don't know history, and they don't know facts," he said. "The truth is that it used to be that the convention, after nomination, traveled to the home or the state of the nominee to inform them they've been nominated. Woodrow Wilson was at his house in Princeton, N.J.; Harry Truman was in Independence," Mo., he said. "They're trying to make an issue out of something that they're surprised by, because . . . they're very upset someone might have a way of neutralizing their advantage."

The nominations of Wilson and Truman occurred in the days before public financing of presidential campaigns and federal election rules about campaign fund-raising.

On other subjects in yesterday's interview, Kerry:

Said he was optimistic Boston would resolve ongoing contract negotiations with city labor unions, including police officers who are threatening to picket outside the FleetCenter when construction on the convention set begins June 8.

"I'm confident that smart people are involved," he said. "They're working hard at it, in good faith, and I'm confident they'll be resolved. Over 50 percent of them have already been resolved. I have every confidence that the mayor and the rest of the officials will provide the leadership that they always have in the past. . . . I think people are blowing this up too much."

Said he would help to close any convention budget shortfall, which by some estimates already tallies $5 million.

"I've already committed to help raise money, long ago, to raise the money. There will not be a financial problem. We'll do what has to be done. You know, people need to relax and realize that every convention -- go back to Los Angeles -- they were way further behind than we are today, by far."

Acknowledged there are a wide range of proposals under consideration for convention week, including an event at Fenway Park while the Red Sox are out of town and, perhaps, his walking from his Beacon Hill home to the FleetCenter on the night he addresses the delegates.

"There are a whole lot of ideas that have been put on the table," Kerry said. "I have not yet sat down and signed off on any final disposition with respect to the convention, and I will do that personally. . . . We have so many ideas on the table, so many great suggestions, that it's hard to pick through them."

Glen Johnson can be reached at Michael Kranish can be reached at  

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