Obama Rejects Call to Cancel Debate

Posted September 24, 2008 at 4:20pm

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) on Wednesday rejected the call by his GOP opponent, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), to postpone Friday’s presidential debate, saying he will continue his campaign while lawmakers and the Bush administration try to work out a deal in Washington, D.C., on how to address the nation’s economic ills.

“It is going to be part of the president’s job to deal with more than one thing at a time,” Obama said. “It’s not necessary for us to think that we can only do one thing and suspend everything else.”

The status of Friday’s debate remains unsettled.

The decision by McCain to suspend his campaign and seek a postponement of the debate is a major gamble that will either be perceived as a bold move of presidential caliber or a political stunt designed to reverse sagging poll data.

The gesture conforms with the McCain campaign’s “putting country first” theme. But is also appears to be a long way from McCain’s contention just last week that the fundamentals of the economy are strong.

Either way, the latest chess move by McCain leaves Obama with a difficult choice: agree with McCain and look like a follower rather than a leader, or reject his path and risk seeming political himself. Obama chose the latter.

The McCain move already is prompting some partisan fallout, as leading lawmakers line up on either side.

In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that with respect to the debate, the show must go on. “If there were ever a time for both candidates to hold a debate before the American people about this serious challenge, it is now,” he said.

McCain and Obama should stay away and avoid injecting a “photo op” into serious matters, Reid said. “It would not be helpful at this time to have them come back during these negotiations and risk injecting presidential politics into this process or distract important talks about the future of our nation’s economy,” he said.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said McCain has an “outstanding idea” that shows he is willing to set politics aside at a crucial moment. “The threats to Americans, and their homes, savings and retirements, is not a partisan problem and it won’t be fixed with a partisan approach,” McConnell said.

One Republican strategist who is not connected to the McCain campaign called the maneuver “deft,” saying McCain had succeeded in shaking up the race in the same way he did by choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate.

“He’s very good at creating turning points,” this source said. “He’s the master of the game changer.”

The strategist added that, knowing McCain, it would not be imprudent to take him at his word — that he recoils at the idea of he and Obama running around the campaign trail while the nation’s economy is under threat. The strategist noted that the debate would focused on foreign policy, McCain’s strong suit.

Whether voters agree with such an assessment will soon become apparent.