- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2002

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said yesterday his party may hold its 2004 convention right after the Republicans hold theirs on Labor Day week in order to regain the political advantage.
Mr. McAuliffe, one of the Democratic Party's strongest fund-raisers, also suggested for the first time that the Democratic presidential nominee may forgo matching federal funds to become more competitive with President Bush, who could do the same. Such a move would allow the candidates to avoid federal campaign-spending limits.
"We have to understand that we are running against an incumbent president with an inordinate amount of money. So we have to deal with that," he said.
Mr. McAuliffe said he was "still seriously considering" four dates in July, August and early September that he announced this week for the party's convention. But he appeared to play down the July 19 and 26 and Aug. 2 dates as too early, and spoke approvingly of going head-to-head with the Republicans around Labor Day week or shortly thereafter.
"It wouldn't be Labor Day, obviously, but maybe we would do some huge rally going into Labor Day. And then we do Tuesday, Wednesday, and so the Republican bounce would go right into our convention and then we're off" into the general election. "It's worth thinking about," he said in a telephone interview.
Other Democratic strategists said yesterday there was strong and growing support for holding their convention close to the Republicans', fearing the Democrats' convention message would be forgotten by Labor Day if they held their gathering in July or early August.
"It's not going to happen. It wouldn't be a good idea. If we went in July or early August, people like me would go berserk," said Democratic campaign strategist James Carville.
Mr. McAuliffe said Republicans "got the jump" on the Democrats when they announced they would convene their presidential nominating convention Aug. 30 and run it through the Labor Day weekend, the traditional kickoff time for the general election.
"They sure did. They wanted to get a political advantage, but we have not sung the last note of this song card yet," he said.
"We've got to fight tough, and I think what the Republicans did, for them, was tactically smart. They've got a president who can raise an unlimited amount of money. They don't have a primary, so they can raise a lot of primary money which they can spend up to the end," he said.
"So that raises a very interesting question. Do any of the Democrats [seeking the presidency] forgo matching funds in the primary season, which means that you are not subjected to the spending limits. We couldn't do it last time. But this time you could clearly make the argument now, with the McCain-Feingold [campaign finance reform] law out there, that we've got to stay competitive. So it's a possibility," he said.
In a letter to the Republican National Committee last year, Mr. McAuliffe said "tradition dictates that the party in the White House holds their convention after the challenging party." He said the DNC would hold its convention the week of July 18, a date that now generally is considered inoperative.
"Since the Republicans are now going later, we Democrats have to rethink: Do we go later?" he said.
Mr. McAuliffe said he has talked with all of the party's presidential contenders about the convention schedule and would not make a decision until he has considered every tactical advantage.
"Everything is on the table, and we're going to make a decision based on what puts our nominee in the best possible position. That's my job. People may not like it, but I'm going to do what I have to do to be competitive," he said.


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