Former Sen. John Edwards Thursday said he will accept public financing for his presidential campaign, and challenged his chief rivals for the Democratic nomination, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, to follow his lead.....In November 2003, when Howard Dean opted out, I saw this as a good strategic move as an electability argument that he could compete monetarily with George W. Bush and the RNC from mid-February to late August when the DNC held its convention and the nominee received the general election check.
In order to qualify for so-called "matching funds," the public funding program for the primary season, the FEC requires candidates to demonstrate nationwide support by raising $5000 in 20 different states with no individual contribution to exceed $250, a task which poses little difficulty for major candidates like Edwards.
Once qualified, the federal government will match the first $250 from new contributors, provided Edwards adheres to a $50 million national spending limit, as well as spending limits in each state. Candidates may not receive more than about $21 million in matching funds.
In an ideal world, he[Dean] probably would like to be able to do that [opt-in]as fundraising is expensive and time consuming with the opportunity cost that when he is looking for money, he is not campaigning. However Bush is planning to have $150 million dollars available to spend between next March and next August. Bush's plan is to drop that entire load on a bloodied and broke Democratic nominee after Super Tuesday in order to define our candidate negatively.John Kerry provided himself with a bridge loan in late 2003 and also decided to opt out of matching funds, and once he rode Iowa to victory, he was able to go toe to toe with the Bush financial machine. Every other Democratic candidate opted-into public financing of the primary cycle and would have been vulnerable to five months of minimal campaign activity as they would have been effectively out of spendable cash.
If the Democrats want to win, they have to counter that ability of Bush to go negative early and often. Dean forgoing the spending caps in the primary is an attempt to do this as he is betting that between now and the convention that he can raise $40-$50 million dollars to counterattack against Bush. [minor edits for readability]
Even with the Republican field being fiscally weaker this year than the Democratic field, the Republican candidates who opt, in coordination with the flush RNC campaign account would be able to blanket the airwaves with defining negative attacks against any Democrat who was forced, due to a lack of money, to go silent for several months.
Therefore, I have to believe that John Edwards realizes that he has a minimal shot at the Presidency and his value on the campaign trail is either as a proxy for Obama against Clinton, functioning as Gephardt to Clinton's Dean murder-suicide pact that killed Dean's positives in Iowa, or as a messenger for change and conversation expansion.