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McCain Cancels Planned Forum Appearance

By Marc J. Ambinder, Crimson Staff Writer

Arizona Senator John S. McCain has postponed today's scheduled appearance at the ARCO Forum after accepting an invitation to sit with the family of Texas Governor George W. Bush during tonight's presidential debate.

McCain was to address the forum at 4 p.m., but his assistants could not work out a way to get him to St. Louis, Mo. in time for the debate, which begins at 8 p.m. EDT.

Bill White, director of the forum, said McCain would likely schedule a rain check appearance for the weeks following the Nov. 7 election.

IOP staff members were alerted early this weekend to the possibility that McCain would postpone his visit, White said. They remained in close contact with Rick Davis, the former campaign manager for McCain who is now a fellow at the IOP.

"There was a lively discussion [among McCain's staff] this weekend as to whether it was feasible to change the schedule," Davis said.

One early suggestion was McCain would use a state police escort to speed off to Logan Airport following his IOP appearance, hopping on a direct flight to St. Louis.

But that would have cut it too close, his staff decided, so McCain was forced to cancel.

"There was no way he could make it from the Kennedy School to St. Louis for the debate," said Adrianne Kaufmann, an IOP spokesperson.

McCain, who had planned to stay overnight in the Boston area, also postponed a business luncheon at WBZ-TV scheduled for Wednesday.

Aides said the Senator's health was also a factor in the decision not to try to accommodate the events.

McCain had surgery this summer to remove a melanoma from his face and upper arm. The senator has a clean bill of health, but he has limited his public schedule and rarely holds public events in the evenings.

"He's still in a recovery period," Davis said. "And we've intentionally not scheduled late nights that would remind us of the campaign times."

The Bush campaign's request that McCain sit with the family at the debate was sudden, coming after renewed speculation in the national media that McCain--ranked in public opinion polls as one of the most admired men in America--wasn't doing all he could to promote his party's presidential ticket.

An article in Friday's New York Times cited unnamed Republican Party and campaign officials who wondered why the Bush campaign hadn't been more active in requesting McCain's help.

Davis said yesterday he thinks the article, written by James Dao, was the decisive factor in persuading the Bush campaign to more aggressively court the senator.

"I do this think this is a total reaction to that article," he said. "This article appeared on [Friday] and boom, we get a phone call on the weekend for this appearance," he said.

Kenneth Lisaius, a spokesperson for Bush, said there was nothing special about the McCain invite.

"I would say [that] the invitation was extended like it was to other Republican office-holders," he said.

He said the campaign welcomes McCain's "strong support."

As to whether McCain will serve as a proxy to the press following the debate, Lisaius said, "It'll be hard for [him] to leave the hall without talking to a reporter."

Serving as a surrogate, however, is not how McCain staffers conceive the invitation.

And as to limiting the number of joint appearances, Davis said he has another concern: that McCain maintain his image as a statesman.

"It's important when you're--as the Wall Street Journal indicated today--the most popular public figure in America that you handle that in a responsible fashion," Davis said.

An Oct. 16 article in Newsweek suggests the Arizona senator wants to be seen as a diplomat above the fray, not hamstrung by the exigencies of a political campaign.

McCain has spent the majority of this fall conducting Congressional business, where he is the chair of the Commerce Committee, and stumping for Republican candidates in his spare time and cutting radio and televisions spots for tight races.

Davis said the Bush campaign requested McCain's presence at the first presidential debate, held Oct. 3 in Boston. But the request included a proviso that McCain be one of Bush's surrogates, selling the campaign's theme to the press after the debates.

The senator refused.

"Not only was there Congressional business at the time, but you don't turn John McCain into a spinner," Davis said.

But the senator agreed to most other requests, said Todd Harris, another top aide to McCain.

"We have been able to accommodate them on almost everything that they've asked us," Harris said.

Sunday, the Bush campaign announced McCain would hit the trail with the governor in several states, including New Hampshire, this week.

The goal, staffers said, is to make one final grab for young independent voters and women. Twenty-nine of the nation's Republican governors have also been recruited for the effort.

Bush and Vice President Al Gore '69 are within the margin of error in most national polls of likely voters, though momentum in several key states like Michigan and Florida appears to be swinging toward the Republican standard-bearer.

Though Bush and McCain have reached a state of dtente in their personal relationship following a bruising primary seasons, their two campaigns have never acquired an affinity for each other.

Aides to Governor Bush have accused McCain staffers of trying to exact political leverage in exchange for active campaigning on behalf of Bush and a full-throated endorsement, while McCain advisers found Bush's aides to be aloof, insisting that McCain follow the campaign's script.

Contact between the campaigns has been sporadic--and relations have been "cordial, and nothing more," Davis said.

More recently, the Bush campaign has made an active play for the voters who supported McCain but who were reluctant to accept his endorsement of Bush.

Speaking to a class at the Kennedy School of Government on Sept. 26, Davis said Bush campaign chair Don Evans contacted him about what it would take for Bush field workers to attract McCain sympathizers.

Davis said he traveled to Austin, and told Evans there that he would recommend Governor Bush endorse a soft money ban for individual donors.

"You gotta talk about campaign finance reform," Davis said he told Evans.

The Bush campaign was not very responsive, Davis said.

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