Time Out!

September 24, 2008

John McCain is calling for Barack Obama to join him in calling a halt to all campaigning and returning to DC to work on the bailout negotiations. He sees a deal being struck by Monday, but his plan would include cancelling the first presidential debate this Friday. The early unofficial word from the Obama camp is that they want nothing to do with it, but there hasn’t been a statement from a named source yet.

Instead, Harry Reid has said thanks, but no thanks on this bridge to nowhere:

This is a critical time for our country. While I appreciate that both candidates have signaled their willingness to help, Congress and the Administration have a process in place to reach a solution to this unprecedented financial crisis.

I understand that the candidates are putting together a joint statement at Senator Obama’s suggestion. But it would not be helpful at this time to have them come back during these negotiations and risk injecting presidential politics into this process or distract important talks about the future of our nation’s economy. If that changes, we will call upon them. We need leadership; not a campaign photo op.

If there were ever a time for both candidates to hold a debate before the American people about this serious challenge, it is now.

Perhaps this was entirely Reid’s idea, but it seems like the perfect response for Obama. This was a high-risk, high-reward tactic on McCain’s part. On the one hand, he has everything to gain from halting the campaign at this point, and he can try to hit his opponnent over the head with his ‘country first’ line if Obama balks. But the timing isn’t so great; the two major pieces of news from late yesterday were Buffett’s investment in Goldman, and the worst national tracking poll McCain has ever seen. So the case that this is a gimmick is even stronger than it would otherwise have been.

As things stand, Obama can simply defer to Reid and say that the show must go on. He doesn’t have to make the case too aggressively himself until he is attacked, at which point he can say that the people working on this have already said they don’t want the candidates around and that McCain is trying to profit off the country’s disaster.

UPDATE 5:31 PM: Obama has hit back:

“It’s my belief that this is exactly the time the American people need to hear from the person who in approximately 40 days will be responsible with dealing with this mess,” he says.

“What I think is important is that we don’t suddenly infuse Capitol Hill with presidential politics,” he said.

Even K-Lo, who agreed with McCain on the merits of postponing the debate, thinks Obama looks better here. McCain is in the midst of halting all campaign advertisements. It’s obviously early yet, but it looks like this tactic is backfiring before it gets off the ground. My first instinct is that, on balance, a quick reversal wouldn’t look as bad as staying the course, but that the McCain camp will go with the latter strategy until things get much worse.

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