McCain still not ready to attend debate |

McCain still not ready to attend debate

Liz Sidoti
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado

WASHINGTON ” John McCain’s campaign expressed cautious optimism Thursday as congressional Republicans and Democrats agreed in principle on a $700 billion bailout of the financial industry hours before the two presidential candidates were to meet with President Bush on the crisis.

Even so, the action didn’t appear to be strong enough to convince McCain to attend Friday’s scheduled presidential debate. His campaign has said he wouldn’t participate unless there was consensus between Congress and the administration, and a spokesman said the afternoon developments had not changed his plans.

“There’s no deal until there’s a deal. We’re optimistic but we want to get this thing done,” McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said.

Obama still wants the face-off to go on, and is slated to travel to the debate site in Mississippi on Friday.

The debate over the debate is the latest campaign twist as McCain and Obama try to navigate the uncharted politics of the financial meltdown and show leadership at a time of national angst.

“With so much on the line, for America and the world, the debate that matters most right now is taking place in the United States Capitol ” and I intend to join it,” McCain said after addressing former President Clinton’s Global Initiative in New York on Thursday before heading to Washington.

Obama argued the debate should proceed because a president needs to be able to handle more than one issue at a time.

“Our election is in 40 days. Our economy is in crisis, and our nation is fighting two wars abroad. The American people deserve to hear directly from myself and Sen. McCain about how we intend to lead our country. The times are too serious to put our campaign on hold, or to ignore the full range of issues that the next president will face.”

In Oxford, Miss., debate organizers continued to prepare.

At a news conference, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, said he expected the presidential debate to go ahead, though he said he had no inside information. “This is going to be a great debate tomorrow night. We’re excited about it,” Barbour said.

Television networks, too, were moving forward. “We’re proceeding as if it’s on and will until someone tells us that it’s not,” ABC spokeswoman Cathie Levine said.

The two candidates spoke to the Clinton Global Initiative ” McCain in person, Obama via satellite ” before the meeting in Washington with Bush and House and Senate leaders from both parties. One of them is certain to inherit the economic mess, including the aftermath of the unprecedented plan to rescue the financial sector.

Presidential politics was running smack into the delicate negotiations over how to stop further weakening the sagging economy without putting an enormous new burden on taxpayers or rewarding corporations or their executives who share the blame for the woes.

On Capitol Hill, Democratic and Republican negotiators emerged from a closed-door meeting to report an agreement in principle. They said they would present it to the Bush administration in hopes of a vote within days.

Rogers said McCain didn’t participate in that meeting, but was in talks with Republican leaders afterward. Conservative Republicans were among the holdouts, and there were indications they were waiting for McCain to make a move before they did.

As Thursday began, McCain said he didn’t believe the administration’s plan had the votes to pass without changes. “We are running out of time,” McCain said. However, he said he still was confident a bipartisan compromise could be reached before markets open on Monday, one that would stabilize the markets, protect taxpayers and homeowners and “earn the confidence of the American people.”

He again portrayed his announced halt to campaign events, fundraising and advertising as an example of putting the country ahead of politics. But in doing so he also hoped to get political credit for a decisive step on a national crisis as polls show him trailing Obama on the economy and slipping in the presidential race.

Despite McCain’s stated campaigning hiatus, his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, paid a highly visible visit to memorials in lower Manhattan to those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Democrats derided McCain’s claim to have halted his campaign as a political stunt, though Obama himself didn’t go that far.

For his part, Obama urged a swift resolution that would get the legislation passed, saying “action must be taken to restore confidence in our economy … Now is a time to come together ” Democrats and Republicans ” in a spirit of cooperation on behalf of the American people.”

Obama also rolled out a new 60-second TV ad to run in “key targeted states” in which he cited economic policies endorsed by Bush and McCain as essentially to blame for the troubles.

“For eight years we’ve been told that the way to a stronger economy was to give huge tax breaks to corporations and the wealthiest. Cut oversight on Wall Street. And somehow all Americans would benefit,” Obama says in the ad. “Well now we know the truth. Instead of prosperity tricking down, the pain has trickled up. We need to change direction. Now.”

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