Did John McCain throw the ultimate Hail-Mary?

Jake Turcotte

Call it what you will. Brilliant. A ploy. Patriotic. Gimmicky. All describe John McCain's announcement to suspend his campaign and put the debate on hold in light of the nation's financial crisis. Or in light of his campaign's crisis -- depending on your point of view.

The one thing that John McCain did today with this action is change the conversation.

It sure wasn't going in his direction anyway. Poll numbers have dipped. The public is blaming the GOP for the financial meltdown. Questions about Sarah Palin being shielded from the press have turned in to rants from reporters for access. Tonight's sneak preview of Palin's interview with Katie Couric wasn't all-star material. And McCain couldn't get his campaign manager extracted from the Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac disaster.

Not even Biden

Media buys weren't doing it. New initiatives and announcements weren't doing it. Attacks on his opponent weren't doing it. Even a treasure trove of Joe Biden gaffes couldn't do it.

In one week Biden said his helicopter was forced down over Afghanistan -- not due to hostile action but because of snow (he forgot to mention that). He also said that Franklin Delano Roosevelt went on TV back in 1929 to discuss the stock market crash (uh, no TV back then) and that he and Obama were not for clean coal (oops, Obama is for clean coal).

The offshoot of these gift-wrapped foibles? Nada. Zero. Snoozeville.

Let's get radical

Nothing was getting through. Time to change the channel.

How about thinking outside of the playbook? What could be wacky enough to work? At this late stage in the game -- how about suspending the campaign? It sounds crazy enough. And that's what was done. Suspend the campaign. Cancel Letterman (he was to appear tonight). Head back to Washington. Get to work. "Country first."

Whether or not it's a ploy -- it all depends on your point of view. David Letterman thinks it "smells."

"This is not the John McCain I know, by God," Letterman told his audience after the last-minute cancellation. "It makes me believe that something is going haywire with the campaign. I don’t know. Somebody’s gotten to him and somebody said, “You know what, blow Letterman off. He’s a lightweight.”"

The debate may still go on. It depends on what happens tomorrow.

Hail Mary

This just may be John McCain's third Hail Mary in two months. The Paris Hilton commercial (casting Obama a Hollywood celeb) was called a Hail Mary. The selection of Sarah Palin was called a Hail Mary. And both of these events were greeted by skepticism before they were called astute -- at least by many pundits.

More importantly they accomplished the goal of changing the conversation.

McCain was able to go on offense after the Hilton commercial. All the talk turned into Obama being a celebrity and "was he ready to lead?"

By selecting Sarah Palin, any hope of an extended post-convention Obama love-fest was derailed.

Both moves were game-changers.

And now, suspending the campaign and nixxing the debate may be the ultimate one.

President Bush

The whole thing gets even more interesting.  In a news conference this afternoon to announce the suspension of his campaign, McCain said the President needed to reach out to both candidates.

“I am calling on the president to convene a meeting with the leadership of both houses of Congress, including Sen. Obama and myself,” said McCain. “It is time for both parties to come together to solve this problem.”

The Obama campaign announced tonight that the President had indeed called the Democratic nominee and invited him to a meeting tomorrow. Obama couldn't turn it down.

"Senator Obama has been working all week with leaders in Congress, Secretary Paulson ,and Chairman Bernanke to improve this proposal, and he has said that he will continue to work in a bipartisan spirit and do whatever is necessary to come up with a final solution," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said.

Obama had to go. And Obama, through Burton, reiterated his call that the debate go on tomorrow night. But it does look like he's following John McCain.

End result? As the late, great Tim Russert would say, "It's too early to call."

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