2.24.2008

Controversy over McCain's public financing commitment picking up

John McCain opened fire on Barack Obama last week, accusing the Democrat of wavering on whether he would accept public financing for the general election. But he soon found himself in the center of a controversy, as the Washington Post came out with a story that put in doubt whether McCain was allowed to opt out of public financing after qualifying for it. If McCain applied for a December loan using the promise of these public funds as collateral, he is not supposed to be allowed to withdraw. In fact, the FEC Chairman wrote a letter to McCain questioning also whether he had a right to withdraw. For a full explanation of what exactly is the issue here, my explanation is available here.

Now the DNC is directly going after McCain on this issue, filing an official complaint with the FEC about McCain's spending. In fact, the DNC notes that McCain had spent $49 million as of the end of January, which means that he probably has already passed the public finance limit of $54 million! Let me repeat this: If the FEC rules that McCain is not allow to withdraw from public financing, the Arizona Senator would not be allowed to spend one more dime all the way until September... while Obama would spend tens of millions. That could just about do it for GOP hopes. And to make matters worse, the DNC is adding an argument to that of the loan's collateral, and noting that McCain might have used the qualification for public financing to get on the Ohio ballot and adding that such a move also locks McCain in the system.

Thankfully for McCain, not only are these matters still legally debatable (though the FEC Chairman clearly appears to share some of these concerns) but the FEC might not get to rule on anything at all. It is unclear whether the FEC will have a quorum to issue any ruling and hope to enforce them, since it only has 2 members right now out of 6. The Senate is deadlocked on the four others... allowing McCain to keep on spending. And the fact that getting FEC nominees approved might now cause huge trouble for McCain will make Senate Republicans less eager to resolve the dispute.

Even if he managed (as is still likely) to dunk the issue, McCain would clearly be hurt if he were to face weeks of questions on this issue for weeks, especially if it undermines his image as an ethics reformer. But campaign finance issues have rarely have a significant impact on election results, which is why the DNC is pushing the issue and making sure it gets as much coverage as possible.

Also today, three general election polls were released from purple states, all three showing Barack Obama running much better than Hillary Clinton, with McCain posting some strong numbers as well:

  • In Wisconsin, Rasmussen shows Obama edges out McCain 44% to 43%, though McCain crushes Clinton 50% to 38%.
  • In New Mexico, Rasmussen shows very similar numbers, with Obama and McCain tied at 44% and McCain crushing Clinton 50% to 38% yet again.
  • In Iowa, finally, the Des Moines Register poll has Obama running 27% better than Clinton! He leads 53% to 36%, while Clinton trails 49% to 40%.
The electability gap keeps getting bigger between Clinton and Obama. As of late January, there was no consistent pattern; now, Obama almost always runs much better than Hillary (albeit with some caveats and key weaknesses that I explained here). Also, it is worth noting that SUSA's numbers were more favorable to Democrats than Rasmussen's (both Democrats lead McCain in New Mexico, for instance).

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