In McCain's absence, the Senator is willing to make the scheduled debate a townhall meeting, a one-on-one interview with NewsHour's Jim Lehrer, or the combination of the two, the official said.
Yes! Ezra Klein explains why this will be bad for McCain:
This puts the McCain campaign in a difficult position to say the least. It's not going to look terribly frivolous if Obama spends an hour answering voter questions about the housing crisis and his agenda. McCain's absence will speak volumes. But if Congress doesn't reach a deal before Friday night, McCain can't very well back down from his promise. Worse, it's pretty clear that the McCain campaign hasn't been doing debate prep for the past few days, and if he were to change course, he's not going to be as focused and in control of the situation as if he'd been readying himself for the confrontation all week.
Plus, I'm not exactly sure at which point supporting the bailout so openly became a political winner...the polls I've seen show even support at best. McCain will be able to say he's doing something, leadership, bipartisan, blah, but I must confess that I don't really know how this is going to play out. I somehow doubt that it's going to put McCain in the White House, but I also don't think it's a campaign killer. He might get back a point or two in the polls, or he might lose a point or two in the polls. Unless, of course, the media follows the lead of David Letterman and rakes John McCain over the coals for this...or if he doesn't show up for the debate.
McCain has set up this entire timeline for action, and I don't think there's any need to change the substance of the policy at this point. Merely breaking his timelines by a bit should be enough to make him look weak. He's not going to be able to stay off the campaign trail forever!
Bottom line: McCain will come. And he'll look bad coming and he'll probably do poorly. Since foreign policy is still (inconceivably!) his trump card, it'll hurt.
Update: It's all beside the point now.