ABOARD THE ELECTION EXPRESS
BATESVILLE, Mississippi– John McCain’s request to postpone tomorrow night’s presidential debate at the University of Mississippi seems to be turning into something less than a trumpets-blaring triumph for him down here.
The state of Mississippi was waiting, with great pride, to host the first debate between McCain and Barack Obama– and the people who live here seem understandably unhappy that, after months of planning, this uncertainty has been thrown at them at the last moment.
Last night and this morning we reported on conversations with Batesville residents–one of them an avid McCain-Palin supporter– who are disappointed and even angry that McCain may not show up tomorrow night. And a conversation today with two men here who have their own theories about the possible no-show provided more viewpoints on how this is going over in northern Mississippi.
“McCain saying that he thinks it’s a good idea not to come to the debate– that’s what you call running from a challenge,” said Arcaro Conner, 45, a maintenance worker. “I don’t think he wants to debate Obama– I think he’ll talk at Obama from a distance, but he won’t talk to him to his face in the same room.”
“He doesn’t want to face the music," said Mike Diltz, 45, also a maintenance worker. “The American people want to hear from these two men. So why would you say that you might not show up?”
McCain’s stated reason is that he believes it is more important to be in Washington, working on a solution to the economic crisis, than to be in Mississippi for a campaign debate.
“Come on,” said Arcaro Conner. “That’s like a football team that says they’re not going to play because it looks like rain. It’s not the rain the football team is worried about– it’s the team they see waiting for them across the field.”
“This whole thing about having to get an economic deal worked out over the weekend,” Mike Diltz said. “That’s like the pitch for used cars– ‘You’ve got to buy this car by the weekend, or it will be gone. I just heard from a customer who liked this car, and he might be coming back, so you’d better buy it right now.'
“What’s the rush? In around 40 days, we’re going to know who the new president will be, so why are they telling us that they have to rush to a decision right now? It took them eight years to get in this mess, and now, right before the debate, McCain is saying he doesn’t want to come because they have to fix it by the end of the weekend?”
Commentators and political analysts have been saying that McCain’s proposal to postpone the debate came as a big surprise.
“No one I talked to was surprised,” Arcaro Conner said. “Everyone I called last night said they knew all along there wasn’t going to be a debate.”
Really? That sounds unlikely– his friends really weren’t surprised?
“Not at all,” Conner said. “He doesn’t want to face Obama.”
Whatever you may think of the reasoning of Arcaro Conner and Mike Diltz, the one thing that seems beyond contradiction today is that people in Mississippi, and at the University of Mississippi, have a right to be frustrated at the prospect of the diminution of their big night during the biggest presidential campaign in recent memory.
“A couple weeks ago, all that John McCain wanted was to get on the stage with Obama," Conner said. “Remember? ‘Let’s the two of us go around the country and talk from the same stages.‘
“Well. . . here’s his chance. Is he going to show up?”