McCain “suspends” his campaign

John McCain has announced that he will suspend his campaign and return to Washington, D.C. to try to promote a legislative answer to the financial crisis. He has called on Barack Obama to do the same, and is also asking that Friday’s debate be postponed.

I don’t know whether McCain’s input will make a difference in terms of passing legislation. I’m not even certain that I’d want it to.

As a political matter, though, this seems like a good move. If Obama agrees, he’s following McCain, not leading. Moreover, Obama seems to have “momentum” on his side right now, so a “time-out” might help McCain marginally.

If Obama doesn’t agree, he may be seen as unwilling to put “country first.” And if a deal is negotiated (something I think most Americans would like to see, as a general matter), then McCain will receive credit and Obama won’t. Finally, if Obama is campaigning while McCain isn’t, the focus may shift back to him. In this race, staged conventions aside, increased focus seems to correlate with slippage in the polls. That was the case with Obama following his trip abroad and the case with McCain following the Republican convention.

McCain may also believes he needs the time in Washington, in the context of congressional debate, to get his bearings on this issue. McCain tends to operate on instinct and his instincts, in turn, are sometimes driven by personal interaction. He may feel that his instincts won’t kick in on this crucial but unfamiliar matter until he’s closer to the action.

UPDATE: Obama is saying that, as far as he’s concerned, it’s full speed ahead with the debate. McCain’s best move is probably to show up and debate. McCain can observe that he preferred to spend the time working to solve the financial crisis, but that Obama felt otherwise, and he (McCain) is not one to back out of a clash. McCain can also point out that the Obama who now thinks a given debate on a given night trumps dealing with a major crisis is the same Obama who wouldn’t accept his challenge to a series of town hall debates during the summer.

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