Sen John S. McCain III (R - Arizona), the Republican nominee for President, announced today that he was suspending his Presidential campaign in order to "focus on the economy" and participate in the congressional debate on the financial bailout package proposed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.
McCain's campaign stated that if the bailout package, which includes $700 billion in government purchases of distressed mortgages, were not authorized by Friday, Sen. McCain might not attend the first Presidential debate, scheduled for Friday at the University of Mississippi.
The most charitable thing that can be said about this move is that it is a well-intentioned, but ill-advised. As the Presidential nominee of one of the major parties in this country, Sen. McCain's job right now should be to present himself and his ideas to the American people. Sen. Barack Obama's comments in this regard were right on the mark -
There are two less charitable interpretations of the Arizona Senator's actions. One is that he is "playing chicken" with the political process, hoping that congressional Democrats will back down from some of their objections and proposed modifications to the Paulson plan in order to maintain the flow of the Presidential election process.
An even less charitable interpretation is that McCain is reading the polls and becoming desperate. This election is moving strongly in Obama's direction - and McCain needs to do something dramatic to stay competitive. (Based on state-by-state polling, Dave Leip has Obama at 269 electoral votes to McCain's 185 (with the rest as "toss-ups"); Electoral-vote.com has Obama at 282 to 256 for McCain; FiveThirtyEight.com has Obama at 309 electoral votes to McCain's 229.)
This would be the first time that a Presidential candidate who is not a sitting President has refused to debate an opponent in over fifty years. McCain and his campaign may also realize that the debates are likely to favor Obama, unless the Illinois Senator commits a major error - on the order of President Ford asserting in 1976 that there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. The visuals and the substance of the upcoming debates - barring a gaffe - are likely to advantage Obama. Obama - the man and his ideas - is likely to look quite fresh and vigorous next to his venerable opponent. For this reason, McCain may be looking for ways to avoid debating Obama at all.
Hopefully, sufficient pressure can be brought on Sen. McCain to debate this Friday as well as on October 7 and October 15.