|Eric Cantor is chief deputy minority whip in the House.|
WASHINGTON - Barack Obama yesterday backed away from rival John McCain's challenge for a series of joint appearances before the political conventions, agreeing only to the standard three debates in the fall. In May, when a McCain adviser proposed a series of pre-convention appearances at town hall meetings, Obama said, "I think that's a great idea."
In a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates yesterday, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said the short period between the last political convention and the first proposed debate made it probable that the commission-sponsored debates would be the only ones in the fall.
"We've committed to the three debates on the table," campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said yesterday.
Asked if that meant Obama would not agree to any other debates, Psaki said, "We're not saying that."
The McCain campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cantor, 45, the chief deputy minority whip in the House, has been mentioned among several Republicans as a possible running mate for McCain, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.
The Republican familiar with the conversations between Cantor and the McCain campaign said Cantor has been asked to turn over documents, but did not know specifically what records were sought.
Spokesmen for Cantor and McCain said they would not comment on the vice presidential selection process.
Obama met with reporters for the first time since the McCain campaign asserted that he had "played the race card" by warning that McCain would try to scare voters about how Obama looks unlike "all those other presidents on the dollar bills." In the ensuing debate, a McCain spokesman suggested that the Republican was being painted as a racist. That's an attempt to shift the campaign's focus, Obama argued yesterday.
"In no way do I think that John McCain's campaign was being racist," Obama said. "I think they're cynical. And I think they want to distract people from talking about the real issues."