The Note: The Gambler

There was no bailout coming for Sen. John McCain's campaign. So he tried to create his own.

McCain's move is a gamble, something of a gimmick -- and something that only a campaign headed in the wrong direction might do. But for a campaign trying to project "country first," there may not be a better chance to live the message.

Whether or not there's a deal and therefore a debate, McCain dealt himself back into the biggest issue of the campaign.

A day of candidate phone tag -- capped by asking for a debate rain check -- put Sen. Barack Obama on defense at least for the moment, leaving him (perhaps awkwardly, perhaps elegantly) defending politics while McCain talks policy.

As of Thursday morning, McCain aides tell ABC News that the candidate isn't going to Mississippi Friday unless a deal on the bailout bill is in place -- though the prospects of such a deal are looking up.

Maybe he's seen, ultimately, as nudging things along. But is this a measure that McCain wants to be witnessed touching?

"John McCain is a gambler by nature, and the bet he placed Wednesday may be among the biggest of his political life," Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post. "What he risks, if things don't go as he hopes, is a judgment by voters that his move was a reckless act by an impetuous and struggling politician that hardened partisan lines in Washington at just the wrong moment and complicated efforts to deal with the biggest financial crisis in more than half a century."

It's the surge all over again: McCain now owns a policy that's viewed with fierce skepticism, even (and especially) by members of his own party. It's not that he hasn't been here before -- it's that he hasn't been here before this close to an election.

Did someone mention a gamble? "Faced with unfavorable odds in the presidential campaign, John McCain time and again finds a way to roll the dice," Peter Wallsten and Peter Nicholas write for the Los Angeles Times. "And, like naming a running mate untested on the national stage, it carries risks: Will voters view McCain's move as decisive, or unsteady, or even as an overtly partisan act to gain traction on an issue that he said Wednesday should transcend partisanship?"

"Bold or bonkers," reads the New York Daily News headline.

Not taking sides, former President Bill Clinton said on ABC's "Good Morning America" McCain's request was made in "good faith" -- and said if Friday's debate does happen, some economy talk would be warranted.

"You could put it off a few days -- the problem is it's hard to reschedule those things," Clinton told Chris Cuomo. "I presume [McCain requested a delay] in good faith, since I know he wanted -- I remember he asked for more debates, to go all around the country." (He's always had a good memory.)

Now, with Thursday's meeting at the White House (Obama is coming to Washington after all -- did McCain win Round One?), we have three presidents. Ask the one who still lives in the White House about the joys of the job.

"It puts them directly on the line over an issue whose politics are mutating almost by the hour, forcing them to balance a sense that the country is angry about the prospect of being stuck with the bill for Wall Street's excesses against a chance that failure to act quickly could have dire economic consequences," Michael Cooper writes in The New York Times.

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