- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2008

BREAKING NEWS:

The presidential candidates took different paths to deal with the economic crisis.

Sen. John McCain Wednesday said he suspended his campaign and asked his Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama to delay their much anticipated first debate to instead focus on the “historic” economic turmoil.

In response, Mr. Obama said he would not suspend his campaign and said the debate should continue.

The clash represents a major gamble by both candidates as Congress struggles with how to proceed with the $700 billion rescue plan.

In brief remarks in New York, Mr. McCain said he had spoken with Mr. Obama to urge him to return to Washington instead of heading to Mississippi for the Friday evening debate.

Mr. McCain also announced he would suspend his fundraising efforts and stop running campaign ads.

“Tomorrow morning, I will suspend my campaign and return to Washington after speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative. I have spoken to Senator Obama and informed him of my decision and have asked him to join me,” Mr. McCain said.

“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,” he said.

Mr. Obama told reporters Wednesday afternoon it is “more important than ever” to hold the debates as planned, though he suggested the topic of foreign policy may actually be co-opted by economic issues.

“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,” Mr. Obama said. “It is going to be part of the president’s job to deal with more than one thing at once.”

The Illinois senator said he thinks the candidates can be constructive and issue a joint statement about their shared principles for the government Wall Street bailout, but it is “more important than ever that we present ourselves to the American people.”

“I believe that we should continue to have the debate,” he said. “If it turns out that we need to be in Washington, we’ve both got big planes, we’ve painted our slogans on the side of them. They can get us from Washington, D.C., to Mississippi fairly quickly.”

Mr. Obama added that when he spoke with Mr. McCain earlier in the day he had the impression the Republican was “mulling over” the idea of not attending the debate. “Apparently [he was] more decisive about it in his own mind,” he said.

Mr. Obama spoke with reporters from Florida, where he is preparing for the debate.

Earlier in the day, his campaign issued a brief statement that did not touch on the debate issue, suggesting Mr. Obama first suggested a bipartisan effort to deal with the bailout proposal that lawmakers are considering on Capitol Hill.

Spokesman Bill Burton wrote in the statement:

“At 8:30 this morning, Senator Obama called Senator McCain to ask him if he would join in issuing a joint statement outlining their shared principles and conditions for the Treasury proposal and urging Congress and the White House to act in a bipartisan manner to pass such a proposal. At 2:30 this afternoon, Senator McCain returned Senator Obama’s call and agreed to join him in issuing such a statement. The two campaigns are currently working together on the details.”

McCain spokesman Brian Rogers offered the campaign’s take on the two phone calls.

“Senator Obama phoned Senator McCain at 8:30 a.m. this morning but did not reach him. The topic of Senator Obama’s call to Senator McCain was never discussed. Senator McCain was meeting with economic advisers and talking to leaders in Congress throughout the day prior to calling Senator Obama. At 2:30 pm, Senator McCain phoned Senator Obama and expressed deep concern that the plan on the table would not pass as it currently stands. He asked Senator Obama to join him in returning to Washington to lead a bipartisan effort to solve this problem.”

Democrats seemed to blast the McCain challenge as a stunt in the hour following his speech.

“We need leadership; not a campaign photo op,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

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

House Majority Whip James Clyburn dismissed the McCain challenge as “drama.”

“There’s no reason to suspend a presidential campaign,” Mr. Clyburn said on MSNBC. “We need less drama and more study.”

The scheduled forum was to be held at the University of Mississippi in Oxford and was to focus on foreign policy.

The university released a statement saying the debate is “proceeding as scheduled.”

“At present, the University has received no notification of any change in the timing or venue of the debate,” the school chancellor’s office said.

The forum, handled by the Commission on Presidential Debates, has been in the planning stages since November 2007.

A woman answering the phone Wednesday said the debate commission was not given a heads up about Mr. McCain’s urge for a delay.

“We know as much as you do right now,” she told a reporter.

Mr. McCain warned delay of passing legislation to deal with the fiscal crisis could be devastating.

“We must pass legislation to address this crisis. If we do not, credit will dry up, with devastating consequences for our economy,” he said. “If we do not act, ever corner of our country will be impacted. We cannot allow this to happen.”

Obama supporter Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, who was one of the debate agreement negotiators, said on MSNBC he believes they “can do both.”

“The American people can hear from the candidates in the debate,” Mr. Emanuel said. “They can handle the debate, we can handle this.

Mr. McCain linked the issue to Americans coming together following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and said the nation is tired of partisanship.

“We must show that kind of patriotism now,” Mr. McCain said.

• Read full transcript of McCain’s remarks on the economic crisis.

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