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Senator John S. McCain (R-Ariz.) did not sit with the family of Texas Gov. George W. Bush in St. Louis during last night's presidential debate. Instead, he watched from the comfort of a room at the Westin Hotel in Boston, the victim of a last-minute ruling by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD).
"The debate commission made a decision that John could not go inside the hall, which was the reason he was making the trip," said Rick Davis, McCain's former campaign manager and a current fellow at the Institute of Politics (IOP).
The senator had cancelled yesterday's planned appearance at the ARCO Forum to attend the debate, but in light of the CPD ruling, he stopped by the Kennedy School of Government for a private reception with IOP and Kennedy School leaders.
Students who were attending a speech by Lee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister of Singapore, had no idea that McCain, who consistently ranks as the most popular politician in America, was a few feet way.
Davis said campaign officials for Vice President Al Gore '69 feared that the debate's town meeting format might mean that McCain would be in the view of television cameras. He said a McCain advance staffer was told that the Gore campaign lodged an objection with the CPD.
The Gore campaign vigorously denied that it had anything to do with McCain's exclusion.
When asked whether the Gore campaign had any objection to McCain's attendance, Gore spokesperson Doug Hattaway said "No. Of course not."
McCain had been invited to sit with the Bush family, in one of six seats on the floor that were reserved for that purpose.
However, the CPD decided that the seats could only go to members of the candidates' immediate families, and McCain is not related to the Texas governor.
"It would not be fair to have campaign surrogates in the family seats," a senior CPD official said. "It becomes a contest over who can get the bigger and more prominent name sitting in their box."
As of press time, the CPD could not confirm whether the Gore campaign had objected to McCain's attendance.
In an interview yesterday, McCain laughed off the miniature imbroglio. "I didn't know I mattered that much," he said.
McCain will campaign with Bush at events later this week, including a stop in the battleground state of New Hampshire.
"Senator McCain and Governor Bush are looking forward to campaigning with each other," said Ken Lisaius, a spokesperson for Bush.
In part because of the McCain visit, the IOP offices in Littauer Hall were a whirlwind of activity last night. In addition to the last minute McCain visit and the Yew speech, the IOP held a Forum on campaign advertising and a presidential debate-watching party on the big screen.
"It's a little crazy here today," said Eugene Krupitsky, chair of the IOP Fellows Committee.
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