The Capitol Hill Strategy

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By Gilbert Garcia

I've never fully bought into the theory (generally perpetuated by his supporters) that John McCain is an impulsive, free-wheeling, outside-the-box maverick.

But I'll say this: His latest gambit, to suspend all campaigning and push for a postponement of Friday's debate with Barack Obama -- ostensibly so he can devote his energies to brokering a legislative solution to our investment-banking crisis -- feels like a drawn-in-the-sand audible. It goes against all political orthodoxy, which says that the underdog in a presidential race should try to debate as early and as often as possible.

It's a crafty move: a political stunt disguised as a country-first rejection of politics. It's reminiscent of presidents who've adopted a Rose Garden Strategy, to let voters know they're too honorable (and busy) to attend a campaign rally. It also put Obama in an awkward position. if he agreed, it would look like a weak, me-too response. If he disagreed, he'd risk looking like just another self-centered pol.

Obama took the latter stance, and it was probably the smartest option, because at least it conveys the impression that he has a mind of his own. I'm skeptical that McCain's dare will swing many votes his way, but it should be fascinating to watch.

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