Obama rejects McCain’s call to delay debate

NEW YORK – The economic crisis and raw politics threatened to derail the first presidential debate as John McCain challenged Barack Obama to delay the Friday forum and join forces to help Washington fix the financial mess. Obama rebuffed his GOP rival, saying the next president needs to “deal with more than one thing at once.”

The White House rivals maneuvered to claim the leadership role in resolving the economic turmoil that has overshadowed their campaign six weeks before Election Day. Obama said he would proceed with his debate preparations while consulting with bailout negotiators and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. McCain said he would stop all advertising, fundraising and other campaign events to return to Washington and work for a bipartisan solution.

“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,” Obama said at a news conference in Clearwater, Fla. “It’s going to be part of the president’s job to deal with more than one thing at once.”

But McCain said they must focus on a bipartisan solution to the nation’s financial woes as the Bush administration’s $700 billion bailout proposal seemed headed for defeat. If not, McCain said ominously, credit will dry up, people will no longer be able to buy homes, life savings will be at stake and businesses will not have enough money to pay workers.

“It has become clear that no consensus has developed to support the administration’s proposal,” McCain said. “I do not believe that the plan on the table will pass as it currently stands, and we are running out of time.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, McCain’s representative in debate negotiations, said McCain will not attend the debate “unless there is an agreement that would provide a solution” to the financial crisis. Graham, R-S.C., told The Associated Press that the agreement would have to be publicly endorsed by Obama, McCain, the White House and congressional leaders, but not necessarily given final passage by the House and Senate.

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