McCain's Move: 4 Different Debate Scenarios

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Sep 25, 2008 2:50 PM

It looks like Obama has firmly declared he will be at the debate, while McCain has allowed a little wiggle room by "requesting" the debate be postponed -- and "challenging" Obama to agree.

Regardless, this "staring contest" over whether or not to debate tomorrow night, could have real political ramifications.  McCain's opening salvo was shrewd and bold, but Obama's comeback was good, too ("Part of the president's job is to deal with more than one thing at once.")

Following are some thoughts on how McCain might respond to Obama's insistence on continuing with the debate:

1.  McCain could still show up.  If the compromise deal gets worked out in time, McCain could show up at the debate a victor, having slayed the economic dragon, and having gained the moral high ground, as well.  ... Even if the deal isn't signed, McCain could still show up -- and ask to focus on the economy (though the debate is supposed to be about foreign policy). 

2.  McCain could skip it.  McCain says he won't debate unless there is a deal.  Pictures of McCain doing real work on the economy at 9 PM on a Friday night (I don't know, he and Lindsay Graham sitting around a boardroom table with a calculator??)  juxtaposed with pictures of Obama at a debate might make McCain look serious (and, conversely, make Obama look political).  Of course, absent those images, this could also backfire. 

Don't discount the fact that skipping the debate opens McCain up to criticism that he cost Ole Miss money and prestige.  But more importantly, skipping the debate might give Obama a large forum all to himself (granted, few real Americans watch debates on Friday nights -- but this would allow pundits to speculate for days that McCain blew it by not showing up ...)

3.  McCain could make a last-minute arrival.  Showing up just as the debate begins -- if it comes on the heels of a major bi-partisan compromise or breakthrough -- would be a dramatic entrance, indeed.  This could work well, or it also might also be perceived as being too cute by half...

4.  McCain could send Palin.  (I mentioned this last night).   Obama would be in a "no-win" situation, in my view.  If he refused to debate her, that would be patronizing.  But if he did debate her, he would essentially be conceding that they are at the same level.  McCain could then argue that in the real world, a vice president steps in to handle political things when a leader is working on real policy ...

What are your predictions???