Obama’s Campaign Finance Pledge
A year ago, at the beginning of his bid to secure the clean-up-Washington mantle, Barack Obama made a pact with John McCain that, if the two were to be their party’s nominees, each would accept public financing for the general election. That agreement sounded far-fetched: At the time, McCain was in the middle of his high-profile free-fall in the polls, while Obama trailed Hillary Clinton by wide margins in virtually every poll.
Now, McCain is virtually the nominee-in-waiting. By his campaign’s count, he has already surpassed the necessary threshold of delegates needed to win the GOP convention in St. Paul. Obama, too, is close to winning his side. He has Clinton against a wall; she needs wins in key states of Ohio and Texas in order to keep her campaign afloat. The scenario that the two candidates who most talk about reforming Washington will actually face each other in November looks more than possible, it looks probable.
So, essentially, Obama made a promise that he thought would be cost-free and is now held to it.
Obama faces two choices: First, he can take public financing, save some face now and open himself to new, stronger attacks on his electability from Clinton while providing McCain an even playing field. Second, he can back out and take a few weeks of assault from McCain and Clinton for going back on his word.
While financing a campaign is an issue few voters care about, choosing the second scenario could potentially cost him votes in a primary election. Choosing the first could risk the general election itself by giving McCain a chance Obama doesn’t have to provide. The question cynics in his campaign have to answer: Do they really want to change the way politics works, or do they really want to win?
My guess is the latter. While I’m not entirely persuaded that the conventional wisdom that Obama would be hurt by a level playing field is right, I’m quite sure that he’ll lose very little by weaseling out on a campaign finance pledge. That’s just not the kind of thing on which people base their presidential vote.