NEW YORK (AP) - Republican presidential nominee John McCain challenged rival Barack Obama on Wednesday to suspend their heated campaign, postpone Friday's debate and work together to deal with the nation's financial troubles.
Obama did not immediately respond to his rival's bold political move, but Obama campaign officials say the senator is inclined to move ahead with the debate.
McCain said the Bush administration's Wall Street bailout plan seemed headed for defeat and a bipartisan solution was urgently needed. The move was an effort by the Republican to claim leadership on an issue that has been troublesome for him at a time when his rival is moving ahead in the polls.
McCain said he would put politics aside and return to Washington Thursday to focus on the nation's financial problems after addressing former President Clinton's Global Initiative session in New York. McCain said he had spoken to President Bush and asked him to convene a leadership meeting in Washington that would include him and Obama.
"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."
McCain said he has spoken to Obama about his plans and asked the Democratic presidential nominee to join him.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid issued a statement saying the debate should go on because "we need leadership, not a campaign photo op."
The University of Mississippi said it was going forward with preparation for the debate in Oxford. "We are ready to host the debate, and we expect the debate to occur as planned," the school said, adding that it had received no notification of any change in the timing or venue.
The Obama campaign said in a statement that Obama had called McCain around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday to propose that they issue a joint statement in support of a package to help fix the economy as soon as possible. McCain called back six hours later and agreed to the idea of the statement, the Obama campaign said. McCain's statement was issued to the media a few minutes later.
"We must meet as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans, and we must meet until this crisis is resolved," McCain said. "I am confident that before the markets open on Monday we can achieve consensus on legislation that will stabilize our financial markets, protect taxpayers and homeowners, and earn the confidence of the American people. All we must do to achieve this is temporarily set politics aside, and I am committed to doing so."
McCain's statement was an effort to show leadership on an issue that has spread economic fears across the country and overshadowed the presidential campaign just six weeks from Election Day. The economy has not been McCain's strongest suit, and his move was an attempt to turn it into an opportunity to show he's the candidate of bipartisanship and action. Recent polls showed Obama with an advantage with voters in handling the economy.
The move put Obama in a bind. Rejecting the idea would allow McCain alone to appear above politics, but agreeing to suspend campaigning and the debate could make Obama look like he's following McCain's lead.
McCain said if Congress does not pass legislation to address the crisis, 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.
"If we do not act, ever corner of our country will be impacted," McCain said. "We cannot allow this to happen."
McCain also canceled his planned appearance Wednesday on CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman" program.
A senior McCain adviser, Mark Salter, said the campaign would suspend all advertising and campaign events until a workable deal is reached on the bailout proposal - but only if the Obama campaign agrees to do the same.