WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama and his team were caught off guard by John McCain's suspension of his campaign and his call to delay the first presidential debate so he could return to Capitol Hill to work on the financial crisis -- just as they were surprised when McCain tapped little-known Sarah Palin as his running mate.
The Obama team has not figured out yet that McCain is waging an asymmetrical campaign, meaning at times he will take a risky, counterintuitive course, just as he did on Wednesday.
The Obama campaign is very smart, but in the closing weeks of this long presidential campaign, perhaps Obama needs more "red cell" thinking. Red cell is a term used by the intelligence community to describe wild, out-of-the-box approaches to potential situations.
Obama, I'm told, was frustrated with McCain and it showed during Obama's press conference from Clearwater, Fla., where Obama is conducting his debate prep. Obama called McCain at 8:30 a.m. to discuss issuing a joint statement ahead of President Bush's speech to the nation Wednesday night about the meltdown of the economic system.
The Illinois senator was prompted to make the call at the suggestion of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). Coburn and Obama worked together across the aisle to pass the "Google for Government" bill setting up searchable Web-based databases for federal government information.
Both Obama and McCain had similar concerns about the flawed Bush administration $700 billion rescue plan sent to Congress. When McCain phoned Obama at 2:30 p.m. he agreed to the joint statement, but Obama did not see what else was in front of him.
"He then said I would actually also like to look at us potentially suspending campaigns and pushing debates off. What I suggested to him was, well, why don't we get the joint statement out first and our staffs will discuss this," Obama said.
"I think the only -- the only possible miscommunication might have been how quickly there was an announcement [by McCain] and somebody was on television. I think probably my assumption was that the joint statement would go out initially," said Obama.
What Obama heard as a proposition--joint suspension of campaigns and Friday debate--was, it turned out, McCain signaling his next move. Like the "Purloined Letter," -hidden on top of a table--McCain put his plan in front of Obama, figuring Obama would listen but not hear.
The McCain campaign started Wednesday with terrible stories: A poll came out with Obama nine points in the lead and campaign manager Rick Davis was in a jam about when he stopped representing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage giants behind the crisis.
McCain campaign pollster Bill McInturff said this "one poll is an unusual outlier."
Good try, but not enough. McCain needed a quick change of narrative.
McCain's aides disdain Obama's claims of leadership because throughout his career, Obama picked and chose his fights.
McCain and Obama are campaigning against lobbyists and "Washington" special interests. McCain wants to show, not tell, by saying he will not campaign, fund-raise, advertise or debate until Congress makes a deal.
Obama plans to show up at the debate in Mississippi on Friday. Depending on what Congress gets done, McCain may be there. It a tactic, to keep us guessing.