Barack Obama's decision to opt out of the public financing system is going to have a lot of immediate and perhaps long-reaching repercussions.
The first impact will be a hit to Obama's image as a straight-shooter and unique politician. After having earlier vouched for the public system, Obama pledged to stay within it. Having wrapped up the nomination on the back of his unprecedented network of donors, Obama is dumping the system now that he has the ability to raise seemingly endless amounts of money. Not exactly the change Obama wants voters to believe in.
Further down the road, Obama's decision could very well break the back of the public financing system for future elections, opening the way for more and more money to enter the system. Obama could well raise as much as $600 million for his entire campaign, both primary funds and for the general election. His campaign will become the model for future candidates to hone and refine.
But there is a more tangible, and more important, potential impact of Obama's decision. If, as the Obama campaign has indicated, he can raise as much as $300 million for the general election campaign, it puts him in a position not only to fiercely compete in those traditional battleground states like Ohio and Florida but to mount serious challenges to states Democrats haven't been competitive in for years.
Take a look at where the Obama campaign is rolling out its first general election ad for a hint at how broad the map could end up being. Yes, Florida, Michigan, Missouri and Pennsylvania are in the mix, as expected. As are Colorado, Virginia and New Mexico, long eyed as battleground states. But the ad is also running in places like Alaska, Georgia, Montana, North Carolina and North Dakota.
If the campaign ends up being fought in places like Georgia, North Carolina and Alaska instead of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio, that's probably bad news for John McCain. It means he's playing defense in places he should be able to ignore and spend precious resources there instead of those blue states he would like to pick off.
Democrats have long complained about their candidates' inability in recent presidential elections to do what Obama's campaign is trying to do now. One of the primary reasons John Kerry eventually gave up on states like Colorado in 2004 was the lack of money to fight everywhere. By opting out of the public funding system, Obama is likely to have enough resources to do it in 2008, and that's probably worth a little criticism about reversing his position on the subject.
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