Election 2008

McCain Challenges Obama To Delay First Debate

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Republican presidential nominee John McCain made a surprising gesture Wednesday by temporarily suspending his campaign to help work on the bailout plan. The Arizona senator also proposed delaying Friday's first presidential debate with Barack Obama.


Joining us now is NPR news analyst, Juan Williams. Good morning, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Now, that was a pretty dramatic move by Senator McCain yesterday. Why do you think he did it?

WILLIAMS: Well, high stakes, Linda. It's a big risk by Senator McCain, but it's a bet that he had to place on his campaign. You think back, he placed a huge bet when he nominated, or selected, Sarah Palin to be his vice presidential running mate. That bet paid off for him. And now after the polls showed him losing support as the economic crisis has erupted over the last week, Senator McCain's campaign felt a real need to change the narrative from a discussion about policy, blaming the GOP for lack of oversight and regulation, to a focus more on character, Linda, leadership, experience in the midst of crisis.

And they hope that John McCain's history will fit that bill, rather than going back to discussions about whether or not he was sufficiently taking a leadership position with regard to the coming crisis. He sees that conversation as one that has been sinking his campaign.

WERTHEIMER: Senator Obama suggested that they should go ahead and have the debate, that it was important to have debates. What about that countermove?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, I think that right now Senator Obama's countermove is to make Senator McCain look like he's impetuous, that he's having a difficult time in the campaign, and as a result trying to inject presidential politics into the discussion of a bailout package. So, at best right now, what Senator Obama is saying is, look, you know what? Both of us are in a position to do more than one thing at a time - which is what you heard in David Greene's report - but also, I think, pointing out that they're in, you know, at most, in position as cheerleaders for a quick settlement. And both are calling for some kind of bailout package to pass Congress.

But I think McCain has an especially difficult task here because he's trying to make sure that this discussion does not extend into October and continue to drag down his campaign. Last week, you know, when he came out and said that the fundamentals of the economy are strong, that really was a problem for his campaign. He had to be right back out and correct himself immediately. And the staff over at the McCain campaign likes to paint him as the kind of person who headed the Commerce Committee. But the fact is, by his own admission, he doesn't have a lot of expertise in this area. So that's why he's trying to change the tone of the conversation about the entire thing by making it an issue of coming to Washington - these two men who really had not been involved in the negotiations - to try to get something done and force Congress' hand.

WERTHEIMER: So, does this meeting at the White House help McCain?

WILLIAMS: Well, it does. In fact, what you have here is an effort to say this is above politics, this is a bipartisan effort, it's a time of urgency, the American economy in great risk, and we need the kind of leadership that would come from the two presidential candidates. So I don't think there's any doubt President Bush's move yesterday helped to reinforce Senator McCain's call for all - for the candidates to come to Washington and for the debate to be delayed.

WERTHEIMER: Very quickly, Juan. In Congress, there are a lot of Republicans who don't like this bill and have - they're estimating it doesn't have very many votes on the Hill. So, do the Republicans have to fall in behind McCain?

WILLIAMS: Well, they haven't so far, Linda. In fact, I think it's a Republican opposition that's been the real problem. That's why I think President Bush made a speech last night. And the real risk for McCain would be that Obama and Democrats could say it's Republicans who have failed to follow through at a moment of crisis and deliver on a bailout bill.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much. NPR news analyst, Juan Williams, thank you.

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McCain Seeks Delay Of Friday's Debate

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Republican presidential candidate John McCain said he is planning to suspend his campaign until there's an agreement on the financial bailout of Wall Street.

McCain said he would return to Washington on Thursday, and he called for the first presidential debate, scheduled for Friday, to be postponed. Late Wednesday, however, the Commission on Presidential Debates said the debate on foreign policy in Oxford, Miss., will go ahead as planned.

NPR's David Greene, who is traveling with the McCain campaign, tells Melissa Block that McCain's announcement was dramatic.

McCain said "the window could be pretty short for getting something done in terms of legislation to deal with the financial crisis," Greene says. "He said he hoped there could be some kind of consensus worked out over the weekend."

At a news conference later Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said he had reached out to McCain earlier and talked about a joint statement that the two candidates could make. He said, however, he did not think the debate should be delayed.

NPR's Greg Allen, who is traveling with the Obama campaign, says McCain's statement took the Obama camp by surprise.

"They did not expect him to call for the debate to be called off," he says.

The two sides are also offering differing accounts of what was discussed in the phone calls and when.



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