McCain's Debate Gamble Could Backfire

"He is a member of the minority party, he is not on any relevant committees, and it was probably disadvantageous to the whole process to have the candidates there. I don't think it worked out the way he wanted it to," Covington said.

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said, "There is another aspect to this: McCain has been trying to separate himself from Bush. Well, he is right back in the canoe with Bush, and Bush is doing the paddling."

McCain Campaign 'Living on the Edge'

A veteran Republican strategist, who asked not to be named, said the entire episode could be eclipsed by tonight's debate.

"If McCain does great in the debate, or he does miserably, everyone will forget the pregame festivities. The outcome of the debate will be the important thing," the strategist said.

But McClellan said the McCain campaign is at some risk.

"There is the potential for a very disastrous narrative to emerge for the McCain campaign over the course of the next week," McClellan said. "Couple this move with some of [vice presidential nominee] Sarah Palin's recent interviews -- her less-than-impressive performances -- and the vice presidential debate next week, and I would say the McCain campaign is very much living on the edge right now."

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