Roland S. Martin
When is the last time a decision by a presidential candidate ended up being good for him, and his opponent?
That is certainly the case with Sen. Barack Obama’s decision on Thursday to become the first candidate since the program went into effect in 1976 to make the bold move.
The move is a huge help to Sen. John McCain because he has cast himself as the fierce independent who is all about reform, even to the point of opposing President George W. Bush on key initiatives. By Obama ceding ground on this issue, he goes against all of the signals he sent for many months on the issue of public financing of campaigns.
Obama made the decision in a video message sent to his supporters, and it didn’t take long for the McCain to jump all over the decrying it as the clearest indication that the junior senator from Illinois is not the breath of fresh air that he has portrayed himself to be.
"Today, Barack Obama has revealed himself to be just another typical politician who will do and say whatever is most expedient for Barack Obama,” McCain communications director Jill Hazelbake said in a statement.
"The true test of a candidate for President is whether he will stand on principle and keep his word to the American people. Barack Obama has failed that test today, and his reversal of his promise to participate in the public finance system undermines his call for a new type of politics.”
Obama’s declaration in the past now allows McCain to say he’s the candidate who is prone to keeping his word, and not make the politically smart move.
Don’t be surprised to see McCain make this decision a significant part of his campaign, and he and his surrogates will hammer Obama repeatedly between now and November on the one issue that the senior senator from Arizona has made his calling card.
How does this help Obama? Easy, he will likely blow McCain away when it comes to fundraising, giving him a huge advantage in the fall election.
Obama would have been absolutely nuts to accept public financing because that meant he would have only been able to spend $85 million. He has already raised nearly $275 million thus far, and he will have the resources to dwarf McCain. No one thought he would be able to raise such vast sums of money, but with 1.5 million donors contributing to his campaign, he has amassed a formidable operation.
Had he stuck to his guns and accepted public financing, McCain’s team would have publicly lauded him, but laughed him off as a naïve fool for doing so. And his fellow Democrats would have berated him to no end for taking away the one area where they have lagged behind Republicans for years: fundraising.
This is a cat and mouse game, similar to McCain’s decision this week to back offshore oil drilling in the United States, despite years of saying he was against it. He knows it could backfire against him by appearing to be a flip-flopper, but McCain hopes the voters will put the $4 a gallon gas concerns over the long-term opposition to the drilling.
Obama’s risky move could severely tarnish the image he has burnished of being a different kind of politician. For hard core Democrats, they will welcome the decision, but the one group that might have a problem are independents. He’s hoping voters will accept his position that the Republican attack machine will blast him with unregulated funds. Obama also hopes that voters will take to his position on not taking funds from Washington lobbyists and political action committees.
Running for president is about taking risks. We’ll soon see who was right in this area.
Editor's note: You can read more from Roland S. Martin at rolandsmartin.com.
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