(AFP) – Sep 24, 2008
NEW YORK (AFP) — John McCain suspended his White House bid over the Wall Street meltdown but Barack Obama refused to follow suit and rejected his Republican foe's call to delay Friday's first presidential debate.
As a high-stakes political standoff erupted, McCain said he would head back to Washington on Thursday and called on President George W. Bush to call a summit including himself, Obama and congressional leaders to solve the crisis.
But his Democratic rival insisted it was more important than ever to debate the turmoil wracking the US economy before the American people, and in a biting rebuke said a president should be able to "deal with more than one thing at once."
Political brinkmanship spread to the White House race as a 700-billion dollar Bush administration bailout bill for the teetering finance industry got bogged down in Congress amid rising opposition on both sides of the aisle.
McCain's bold gambit came as several new opinion polls showed him falling behind Democrat Barack Obama in the presidential race amid evidence that his halting early response to the financial crisis has hurt his prospects.
"Tomorrow morning I'll suspend my campaign and return to Washington," the Republican told reporters, adding he had spoken with Obama to inform him of his decision.
"I do not believe that the plan on the table will pass as it currently stands, and we are running out of time," McCain said, stressing the nation "faces an historic crisis in our financial system."
"We must meet as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans, and we must meet until this crisis is resolved," the Arizona senator added.
"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."
But Obama shortly afterwards spoke to reporters in Florida and rebuffed McCain's call.
"What I'm planning to do right now is to debate on Friday. My general view is that the American people need to know what it is we intend to do in moving the economy forward," he told reporters.
Obama said McCain had jumped the gun by calling for postponing the debate in Mississippi.
"My attitude is we need to be focused on solving the problem ... but I think it is also important that we communicate to the American people where we need to go in getting us out of this situation," the Democrat said.
"I think it's possible to do both."
The Illinois senator said he had spoken to McCain in the afternoon and had been under impression that their staffs were working together on a joint statement adding McCain had told him they should join a bipartisan effort to ease the crisis in Washington.
"Now, when I got back to the hotel, he had gone on television to announce what he intended to do," he said.
Obama said he had been in constant touch with top congressional leaders on the campaign trail and said it was not yet necessary to go back to Washington.
"I think that it is going to be part of the president's job to deal with more than one thing at once.
"With respect to the debates, 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."
Senior McCain campaign officials said however that the situation facing the US economy was so dire, that politics should be put aside for a bipartisan effort to pass a bailout package before Monday.
"Senator Obama is needed in Washington as the titular head of the Democratic Party to help get this deal done. They need to work together to get the deal done to help protect the American economy," said top advisor Steve Schmidt.
But Democrats portrayed McCain's move as a desperate attempt to reverse tumbling poll numbers.
"With polls showing his campaign is at its weakest, Senator McCain's decision may have less to do with the drop in the Dow Jones average and more to do with a decline in the Gallup poll," said Obama ally Senator Dick Durbin.
Adding to the uncertainty, organizers of the debate said they were going ahead as planned with the event in Oxford, Mississippi on Friday.
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