Country first.

John McCain asked the Presidential Debate Commission on Wednesday to postpone Friday’s scheduled debate with Barack Obama so that he can work on the financial crisis bailout plan now on Capitol Hill.

The Arizona Republican senator said he will suspend his presidential campaign on Thursday to return to Washington to help with bailout negotiations. He urged Obama to do the same.

He’s trying to siphon off some of Obama’s strength with voters on the economy, obviously, but er … at the expense of a debate on foreign policy that would have played to his own strength? What does McCain gain by steering the campaign towards an issue for which the public blames his party?

Update: Is there any way The One can say, “No, let’s debate”?

Update: Slublog suggests this is Maverick’s way of dragging Obama and Biden back to D.C. while keeping Palin out on the trail. Eh. Given the media’s disposition towards her, how do you think they’ll cover her stumping for votes amid this dire national crisis?

Update: I guess McCain figures he’s at enough of a disadvantage on the economy that if he doesn’t do something bold to cut into Obama’s lead, he’ll disintegrate by election day. Meanwhile, Barry O says … the debate is still on:

“I have spoken to Senator Obama and informed him of my decision and have asked him to join me,” McCain planned to say in New York City, according to advance excerpts released by his campaign. “I am calling on the president to convene a meeting with the leadership from both houses of Congress, including Senator Obama and myself. It is time for both parties to come together to solve this problem.”

However a senior Obama campaign official said Obama “intends to debate. The debate is on.”…

Obama is willing to return to Washington “if it would be helpful.” But Obama intends to debate on Friday, an official said.

Update: The Weekly World News blows the lid off the secret reason for McCain’s ploy.

Update: Team Maverick’s in the process of yanking its ads as we speak. I think this is actually an opportunity for Obama to show some stones. Call what McCain’s doing a stunt and reiterate the need to debate on grounds that both sides can spare a few hours for a moment of national import in which the public is extremely interested. It could backfire, or it could destroy the political benefit McCain’s getting out of this.

Update: Ole Miss says it’s been told by the debate commission that for the moment it’s full speed ahead.

Update: Ah, the search for a victim ends with Ole Miss claiming it’ll be “devastated” if McCain pulls out now:

Andrew Mullins, special assistant to university Chancellor Robert Khayat, told ABC News that the Ole Miss campus has been transformed to accommodate the candidates and the press. Road blocks are in place on campus and in the community and the debate set for the candidates has already been constructed. He said the university has spent roughly $5.5 million getting ready for the debate…

“It’s huge. You cannot just say that you’re not going to do this thing,” Mullins said. “I don’t have any idea whether we do the debate” at a later date. (We) probably wouldn’t do it.”

People are e-mailing to say that McCain should send Palin in his place. Yeah, I’ve got a funny feeling that’s not in the offing, although it’d be clever if Obama proposed it.

Update: A source inside the Obama camp tells NBC The One will reject the idea of cancelling the debate and argue that presidents should be able to multitask. Er, what if McCain simply doesn’t show, then? Meanwhile, Obama mega-shill Joe Klein offers a clever way to call Maverick’s bluff: Simply move the debate to D.C. so that the two candidates can be in town to work on the bill and change the topic from foreign policy to the economy.

Update: As expected, he just said at his presser that he thinks it’s important for Americans to hear from the candidates right now given that one of them will have to deal with this mess in January, etc etc, so the debate is presumably still on as far as he’s concerned. Your move, Maverick.

Update: Reid told McCain on the phone his presence is neither wanted nor needed.

“This is a critical time for our country,” says the Reid statement. “While I appreciate that both candidates have signaled their willingness to help, Congress and the Administration have a process in place to reach a solution to this unprecedented financial crisis. I understand that the candidates are putting together a joint statement at Senator Obama’s suggestion. But 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. If that changes, we will call upon them. We need leadership; not a campaign photo op. If there were ever a time for both candidates to hold a debate before the American people about this serious challenge, it is now.”

A source close to Reid said McCain didn’t have much to say after that.