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McCain Seeks Delay Of Friday's Debate
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McCain Seeks Delay Of Friday's Debate

Election 2008

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. In a presidential campaign already marked by twists and turns, there was yet another bend in the road today. John McCain said he is planning to suspend his campaign until there is an agreement on the financial bailout of Wall Street. In a hastily called press conference, he said he would return to Washington tomorrow, and he also had this announcement.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Nominee): I am directing my campaign to work with the Obama campaign and the Commission on Presidential Debates to delay Friday night's debate until we have taken action to address this crisis.

BLOCK: A couple of hours later, Barack Obama said he supported intensified efforts to resolve the financial crisis. But as for the debates, he said this:

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Democratic Presidential Nominee): It's my belief that this is exactly the time when the American people need to hear from the person who in approximately 40 days will be responsible for dealing with this mess.

BLOCK: And the Commission on Presidential Debates says Friday's debate is still on. For more, we turn to our two correspondents traveling with both campaigns. Greg Allen is with the Obama campaign in Florida. And David Greene is with the McCain campaign in New York. And David, let's start with you. What else did Senator McCain have to say about this issue of the bailout and the debates?

DAVID GREENE: Well, Melissa, Senator McCain - in this pretty dramatic, last-minute session with reporters - said that he thinks that the window could be pretty short for getting something done in terms of legislation to deal with the financial crisis. He said he hopes that there could be some sort of consensus worked out over the weekend. He wants something done, a solution, by the time the markets open on Monday. So, if he does indeed go forward and go down to D.C., he's going to put some pressure to make this happen pretty quickly. You know, John McCain spent a lot of today talking on the phone, considering his options. His aides say he actually spent some time doing prep work for the debate that he now suggests should be postponed.

BLOCK: And Greg Allen, traveling with the Obama campaign, how did they respond to this challenge from John McCain?

GREG ALLEN: Well, it took them by surprise, as you can imagine, Melissa. What Senator Obama said - of course, you heard what he said about debates, that this is exactly the time that the American people want to and need to hear from the candidates about what they plan to do to clean up this mess. And he says that presidents, they have a lot of things to do as part of their job, and one thing they have to do is deal with crises and many things at one time. And he says that we can fly back to Washington right after the debate or before the debate, if necessary. But it's his thought that the debate should go on as planned.

BLOCK: And the chain of conversations about this is interesting. Greg, I understand that this started this morning with a call from Senator Obama trying to reach Senator McCain.

ALLEN: Right. It all becomes kind of, you know, this chronology that kind of makes your head spin. So, OK, the Obama campaign says they started it at 8:30 this morning when Barack Obama called for Senator McCain and said he wanted to talk about putting out a joint statement. Then he went to a rally in Dunedin, Florida, where he talked about the principles he wanted to see as part of any bailout package. Right after that rally was over, Senator McCain called back. And so, Senator Obama took that call in the motorcade on the way back to his hotel. By the time they arrived at the hotel, Senator McCain had come out with his statement. And as I say, it's something that took them by surprise. They did not expect him to call for the debate to be called off. All that Senator Obama says he thought they were talking about was a joint statement.

BLOCK: And David Greene, did John McCain steal Barack Obama's thunder here?

GREENE: Well, it's not clear. I think this is going to be one of the most heavily scrutinized phone calls that we've ever had. So, the McCain campaign says that indeed, Senator Obama reached out to Senator McCain about 8:30 this morning. But they say that Senator Obama did not reach McCain because the Arizona senator was too busy talking to his economic advisers, and talking to leaders in Congress, and that the topic that Senator Obama wanted to discuss was never passed on. And so it was in the afternoon when Senator McCain reached out to Senator Obama that things really got in motion. So, now our heads are really spinning.

BLOCK: OK, well, look, the debate is scheduled for Friday. The commission says it's on. Barack Obama says he's going. John McCain, is he going to be there? Do we have a debate of one person? David Greene, what do you think is going to happen here?

GREENE: Well, Senator McCain's advisers say that if a deal could be worked out quickly, like tomorrow, that Senator McCain would be happy to go on with the debate. But they suggest that that's pretty unlikely. But what they do if the debate goes on with an empty podium, we'll have to see.

BLOCK: And just to be clear, David, when they're talking about suspending their campaign, they're not talking about signed, sealed and delivered legislation here. They're talking about something short of that.

GREENE: It sounds that way. It's just going to be not holding events, and not holding rallies, and not putting ads up. They say they don't want the traditional campaign back and forth, but the campaign is still officially very much in operation.

BLOCK: And Greg Allen, as far as the Obama campaign is concerned, they're showing up for the debate in Mississippi on Friday?

ALLEN: That's what they say. And I think one of Obama's advisers said, you know, when they say suspend their campaign, what about the 527, what about the third-party ads? Are they going to take those down as well? So, we'll see what happens over the next couple days.

BLOCK: OK, NPR's Greg Allen in Clearwater, Florida, traveling with the Obama campaign. David Greene traveling with the McCain campaign in New York. Thanks to you both.

ALLEN: Thanks.

GREENE: You're welcome.

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