Democrats had dared Sen. John McCain to show leadership on the Wall Street crisis and he stepped up. He put his campaign on hold Wednesday and challenged Sen. Barack Obama to postpone Friday’s debate, which Democrats had hoped to turn into a forum on failed Republican economic policies.
Less than a month after he canceled the first night of the Republican National Convention, Mr. McCain again flashed his signature maverick style, declaring President Bush’s proposed $700 billion bailout dead and, as he’s done so often in the past, said he could help broker a bipartisan deal to cut through the political clutter.
Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama refused to cancel the debate, but Wednesday night accepted an invitation from President Bush to a bipartisan summit on the economic bailout package that also will include Mr. McCain and other top members of Congress and the administration.
In rejecting Mr. McCain’s debate postponement, Mr. Obama said the Republican showed his own limits rather than real leadership.
“It is going to be part of the president’s job to deal with more than one thing at once,” Mr. Obama told reporters in Florida. “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’s campaign said he called Mr. McCain at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, proposing a joint statement on the economic situation. The two men again spoke privately at 2:30 p.m., but minutes later, Mr. McCain then went much further and told reporters that he wanted to postpone all politicking.
The McCain campaign said last night that Mr. Obama’s refusal would not affect their plans. The Arizona senator announced that he was canceling his political commercials and would return to Washington after a final nonpartisan speech Thursday to the Clinton Global Initiative. He also said he was suspending fundraising, though the link on his Web site for contributions to his campaign compliance fund still worked Wednesday night.
Mr. McCain said top leaders from both parties should meet and hammer out details of a bill that that they would then present to their colleagues as the best solution possible - exactly the way he has crafted deals on other major issues, such as judicial nominees and immigration.
“I am confident that before the markets open on Monday, we can achieve consensus on legislation that will stabilize our financial markets, protect taxpayers and homeowners, and earn the confidence of the American people,” he said. “All we must do to achieve this is temporarily set politics aside, and I am committed to doing so.”
It’s the second time in less than a month that he’s tried to show leadership by canceling a political event. Just weeks ago, he pulled commercials and scrapped most of the first day of the Republican National Convention, saying he didn’t want to distract from the relief efforts surrounding Hurricane Gustav.
Earlier this month, when the candidates had a one-day campaign break to commemorate the 2001 terrorist attacks, Mr. McCain blamed the nasty tone of the campaign on Mr. Obama, saying it would have been more agreeable had the Democrat agreed to his town hall invitations.
The McCain team said returning to Washington and suspending his campaign was an easy decision.
“[We] got in a position where, you know, the Democrats were warily circling McCain: ‘not going to commit to a deal unless McCain does.’ It was just a time for leadership. So he just stepped up,” said a McCain campaign official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
But the move also comes as Mr. McCain is slipping in the polls and struggling to find his voice on the economy, and Democrats said it was little more than a stunt.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had dared Mr. McCain to take control of the debate, telling reporters: “We need, now, the Republicans to start producing some votes for us. We need the Republican nominee for president to let us know where he stands and what we should do.”