PEEK

Does Edwards Have a Matching-Funds Problem or Not?

Will Edwards' caps undermine him if he wins the nomination?
Yesterday, the wives of two of the leading Democratic candidates sparred over the limits of the federal matching-funds system. It's a point I've been wondering about for months.
...Elizabeth Edwards isn't happy with what Michelle Obama is saying on the campaign trail about the effects of John Edwards' decision to accept federal matching funds for his presidential campaign.
"I'm surprised and disappointed in Michelle," Mrs. Edwards reportedly said at a campaign event Monday night.
Mrs. Edwards comments were spurred by a voter recounting a conversation Mrs. Obama had with his 17 year-old daughter, claiming the Illinois senator's wife told his daughter not to support Edwards because the spending caps he is subjected to for accepting federal campaign money will seriously hinder his chances in a general election.
For his part, John Edwards discounted the argument that his limited campaign funds are hurting his presidential bid.
Well, yes, the Edwards campaign certainly does "discount the argument," but objectively speaking, will Edwards' caps undermine him if he wins the nomination?

This isn't a rhetorical question; I'm really hoping someone can help me out with this, because right now, it's probably my top concern about Edwards' candidacy.

This came up in October on "Meet the Press," and I was hoping Edwards could convince me that these fears are unfounded. He didn't.
RUSSERT: Senator Clinton and Senator Obama have both outraised you in terms of campaign finance and fund-raising. You have now opted for public financing. The DailyKos Web site has said this makes you a very dangerous candidate because between the time that primaries are over and the conventions start, you'll only have about $40 million to spend to ward off Republican attacks. That -- and this is one of the reasons why you should not be the nominee, because you'd be in such a weakened position.
EDWARDS: Do you want me to respond?
RUSSERT: Please.
EDWARDS: I-this is going to be an election, Tim, it's not going to be an auction. You know, we're not going to determine who can raise the most money and thereby who should be president of the United States. It's an amazing thing to me that when you do something that you believe is right, same thing I did in 2003 and 2004, that this is the response. What I know is true, I know that when we get to after February 5 and it's pretty clear who the Democratic nominee for president's going to be, that there needs to be absolutely clear divisions between me as the Democratic nominee and the Republicans.
And I am completely convinced if I have, and I believe I will, beaten two celebrity candidates who will probably have spent over $200 million during the course of the nomination process, I can certainly beat a Republican who's carrying George Bush's baggage. And the way I will do it is not on the basis of money, but on the basis of what America needs, on the basis of principle stand, on the basis of big and bold ideas.
That's very pleasant rhetoric, which I don't find reassuring in the slightest.

No matter who gets the Democratic nomination, the GOP nominee and the Republican smear machine will be doing exactly what they always do -- spending millions to tear the Democratic candidate down. It'd be great if money were irrelevant, but that's just not realistic until there's a major reform effort. Under the current rules -- which will be in place in November -- national candidates with "big and bold ideas," who lack the resources to get that message out and knock down right-wing smears, struggle badly in elections.
Steve Benen is a freelance writer/researcher and creator of The Carpetbagger Report. In addition, he is the lead editor of Salon.com's Blog Report, and has been a contributor to Talking Points Memo, Washington Monthly, Crooks & Liars, The American Prospect, and the Guardian.
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