John McCain reversed his decision not to debate front-runner George W. Bush, saying at a Tuesday campaign stop, "Governor Bush wants to debate, there will be a debate." In order to participate with Bush and Alan Keyes in the Tuesday event in Los Angeles, McCain offered to cancel plans in New York and participate via satellite. He also offered to debate Bush Wednesday via satellite on MSNBC's "Hardball," or in person Sunday on "Meet the Press."
The flip-flop followed a spate of uncharacteristically negative press on McCain's decision to skip the debate. It even created internal divisions within the McCain camp, with top California strategist Dan Schnur and close advisor Warren Rudman both advising McCain to do the debate. The announcement appeared to be a total surprise: Just 15 minutes before, McCain strategist Mike Murphy had said that the campaign would not reverse its decision. (By Jake Tapper and Anthony York)
Bradley denies he's quitting
After touching down in Los Angeles Tuesday, Bill Bradley's campaign spokesman, Eric Hauser, denied rumors circling Washington that Bradley would drop out tonight if he lost the Washington primary. "That's preposterous," said Hauser, who then recounted a week's worth of scheduled activities, including a Wednesday night debate against Al Gore and a just-purchased, five-minute campaign commercial to run Thursday evening on CBS. When a TV producer asked Hauser about the rumor, which made its way around Capitol Hill (and was first reported by the Hotline, which it credited to "a high-level Bradley campaign official"), he sneered. "People on the Hill don't know shit about shit," Hauser said. "I worked on the Hill for 10 years; their jobs suck, so they spend their time talking about this shit instead of trying to help the country." (By Jake Tapper)
Wellstone left unturned
Thanks to Seattle's finest, one of Bradley's three Senate supporters experienced some difficulties Monday while trying to leave the University of Washington campus. Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., could be seen arguing with a motorcycle cop who refused to let the Senator's Hyundai turn onto a blocked-off street. Wellstone, according to an aide, was trying to catch a flight back east to do a media interview about the illegal trafficking of people for labor. The turtleneck-clad senator, scrappy and pugilistic, could be seen rummaging through his wallet for his Senate I.D. No dice -- the cop insisted on first letting Bradley's motorcade pass by. There was no word on whether Wellstone made it in time for his interview. (By Jake Tapper)
McCain blasts Reagan's coalition
Monday John McCain parried George W. Bush's expression of regret for his appearance at Bob Jones University by accusing the Republican Party of abandoning the American middle for religious extremes. He equated the GOP's relationship with Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell with the left's attachment to Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan.
Bush responded by staying on message with a variation of his "I'm a uniter, not a divider" palliative: "He is a person who obviously wants to divide people into camps." Later, in a visit to Washington state, Bush expanded the theme: "Senator McCain is someone who likes to castigate, not someone who likes to lead." If that wasn't enough to define a partywide offensive, House leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, stepped in to say that McCain's speech "was not the speech of a coalition builder and a unifier, nor was it worthy of a Republican presidential candidate." Continuing with the unified-message theme, Roberta Combs, executive vice president of the Christian Coalition, issued a statement Monday calling McCain's comments a "transparent effort to divide one American from another on the basis of religion."
McCain ally Gary Bauer was having none of the Bush camp's posturing. He appeared on stage with McCain in Virginia, then penned an opinion piece for Tuesday's New York Times that detailed McCain's conservative credentials and argued that McCain aimed his criticisms at some of the religious right's leaders, not its participants or ideals.
GOP getting antsy over primary antics
Early in the election season Republicans felt confident that they could continue to control the House of Representatives. A big part of their plan had Bush marching triumphantly through the primaries and carrying House candidates along on his coattails. Now they're feeling nervous, wondering if the primary struggle between Bush and McCain will smear the party as a whole. If they needed vindication of their concern, Al Gore was standing in the wings. Republicans "don't know who they are," the Associated Press quoted him as saying.
I'll ride with McCain or walk alone
So finds Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who conducted a survey for YROCK.com, a Web site for young Republicans. The AP reports that when Luntz asked respondents which candidate would be the best lifeline in "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," Gore, Bush and McCain tied; when he asked whether they'd like to ride home with a particular candidate or walk alone for five miles, a majority chose either riding with McCain or walking alone.
Bradley bets it all on Washington
Bill Bradley makes his final shot for attention in the Washington primary. His campaign now dreads the media, fearing that the death watch has begun. On the other side of the country, Bradley's New York supporters are baffled at his devoting five days of campaigning to Washington, which doesn't deliver any delegates in today's primary, at the expense of their home state.
The latest Gallup poll shows that Bush continues to lead McCain nationally, 57 to 33 percent, among registered Republicans and those who "lean" toward the GOP.
The latest ABC News poll shows McCain's favorable ratings rising at Bush's expense: McCain is viewed in a positive light by 60 percent of Americans, Bush by 49 percent.
The Field poll in California shows Bush leading McCain by 20 points, 48 to 28 percent, among Republicans likely to vote in the presidential primary.
Field and Time/CNN polls show Gore beating Bradley by more than 20 points in California. Marist and CBS News/New York Times polls show the same results in New York.
On the trail
Bradley: San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Gore: Los Angeles.
Mail me with your comments, suggestions and tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.