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Kerry decides to accept nomination at convention

SEATTLE --John F. Kerry announced he would accept his party's presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Boston on July 29, ending a five-day flirtation with a plan that could have helped him financially but had sparked criticism from Mayor Thomas M. Menino, ridicule from opponents, and questions among Boston-area residents facing the inconvenience of a convention that would have been reduced to little more than a political rally.

The Massachusetts senator, who considered the delay to allow him to help him close a fundraising gap with President Bush, instead will hope for grassroots political support, assistance from state and local parties, and perhaps a favorable rules change from the Federal Election Commission to compete in the final phase of his quest for the White House.

Under the current law, candidates must halt private fund-raising once they are formally nominated. Since Bush will not accept the Republican Party's nomination until Sept. 2, he will have to make his $75 million kitty last only eight weeks until Election Day, while the current rules mean Kerry will have to make his last 13 weeks beginning on July 29.

One idea under consideration within the Kerry campaign is petitioning the Federal Election Commission for permission to continue raising and spending private funds until Bush receives his federal allotment in early September, according to one top adviser. Having the national and state parties spend on Kerry's behalf could provide relief, but Kerry would have no control over their advertising because of rules limiting formal coordination between the parties and the campaign.

``We know we can't match George Bush's special interest war chest dollar for dollar,'' Kerry said in a statement released between campaign appearances in the Pacific Northwest. ``But we have something George Bush doesn't: people and ideas. I intend to rely on the grassroots army which has already brought us so far beyond anyone's expectations. They've shattered every grassroots fundraising record in the Democratic Party, and together they can guarantee that average Americans can decide this election, not George Bush's Rangers and Pioneers.''

Kerry's decision came partly in response to widening concerns about the postponement scenario from political allies such as Menino, Senator Edward M. Kennedy,, and Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe. President Clinton also spoke with McAuliffe Sunday night about the pros and cons of delaying the nomination, but took no position on the issue, Democratic Party officials said.

The behind-the-scenes grousing took on both local and national dimensions. Boston business leaders and leading politicians -- led by Menino, who has staked his political reputation on a dynamic convnetion -- were troubled that all the headaches associated with the convention, particularly the nearly 40 miles of highway closings in and around Boston during the July 26-29 event, would be for naught without the pomp of a crowning nomination.

In Washington, meanwhile, Republicans relished the idea of Kerry stewing in all the Democratic criticism and repeatedly hammered away at the nomination issue to reenforce their caricature of Kerry as a flip-flopper -- "only John Kerry could be for a nominating convention, but be against the nomination," Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman said in a statement.

By Monday Menino -- who was already furious that the Kerry camp did not contact him about the delay option before it became public Friday -- had heard enough concerns that he told Kerry "to make a decision now and get beyond this," the mayor recalled yesterday.

Kerry, in turn, personally called Menino this evening to say that he would accept the nomination in Boston as scheduled.

"It's great news -- it gets the cloud off the campaign and now we can get into the issues that affect the working people of America," Menino said in an interview. "This had become an irritation, and he felt, 'Let's stop this, let's get the focus back on the differences between the Republican administration and a Kerry administration."

Kennedy, meanwhile, had privately told friends that he opposed delaying the nomination because it might draw less media and public interest in Boston and the Democratic convention, which Kennedy assiduously sought for the city. Yet unlike Menino, Kennedy did not make his concerns public; aides to the senator said he intended to support Kerry unconditionally in public, given that they are friends and allies and Kennedy serves as co-chair of the presumptive nominee's campaign.

"Senator Kennedy was less than thrilled with the idea, which I think took some time to sink in with the campaign -- Kerry and his people are smart enough to know that the value of the convention is greatly diminished to the city and state if there is no nominee," said one Democratic Party operative who is close to Kennedy.

David Smith, a spokesman for Kennedy, said the senator was unavailable for comment, while reiterating that Kennedy would have supported any decision by Kerry on the nomination.

"Senator Kennedy's obviously pleased that this has been settled, and that we will nominate the next president of the United States in Boston," Smith said.

For Kerry, the decision about the nomination's timing quickly morphed from a legal issue to a political tinderbox. Democratic Party lawyers, in predictions from the get-go and in legal briefs this week, gave Kerry a green light to delay the nomination if he wished, reassuring his campaign that the Federal Election Commission would probably not penalize the Democrats if they held a convention without a nominee and continued to raise and spend private funds afterwards.

Kerry never chose to vet the idea with the FEC by seeking a commission advisory opinion, instead hearing from his lawyers that "the nomination can be delayed -- it's not even a close call that this can be done," one Kerry lawyer involved with the matter said.

"This absolutely came to be a political deicsion, no question about it," the Kerry lawyer said. "As a matter of law, it simply wasn't that complicated. But there were reams of anguished phone calls going back and forth, and a sense emerged that it might not be worth the trouble of changing the convention. The concerns in Boston were significant concerns."

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