WASHINGTON (AP) – In a historic move, Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean will skip public financing and the spending limits that come with it, hoping his money-raising power can help win the nomination and unseat President Bush, campaign officials said Saturday.

The 2004 race is the first time that candidates from both major parties will forgo the Watergate-era public financing system. Bush also is opting out, as he did in the 2000 Republican primaries and raised a record $100-plus million.

Dean made his decision based on a high-tech tally of 600,000 supporters, whom he asked to vote by e-mail, Internet, telephone or regular mail through Friday.

He was announcing the results at noon in Burlington, Vt., but campaign officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said about 85 percent of the 105,000 supporters who weighed in urged the former Vermont governor to opt out. He becomes the first candidate in Democratic Party history to take such a step.

At least two Democratic rivals – Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and retired Gen. Wesley Clark – also have been considering opting out.

Like Bush in his primaries, Dean now can spend unlimited amounts on his campaign for the nomination and, if successful, through the summer before the general election season starts.

Candidates who accept public dollars in the primaries can get up to $18.7 million in taxpayer money but are limited to about $45 million in spending.

A campaign official said Dean has no plans to limit his spending through the primaries to that threshold, as some campaign finance watchdogs have urged.


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