It was a campaign of gimmicks. Team McCain had determined that victory depended on winning individual 24-hour “news cycles,” so voters were subjected to one inane publicity stunt after another, whether it was waving tire-pressure gauges, chortling about Obama’s “celebrity” status, or selecting Sarah Palin as the vice presidential candidate the morning after Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. So it was no surprise that when faced with a serious crisis—the meltdown of the nation’s financial sector—McCain tried yet another gimmick. Trying to appear grave, McCain announced on Wednesday, Sept. 24, that he was suspending his campaign to rush off to Washington, D.C., to work on the bailout, and oh, by the way, let’s cancel that Friday debate, where McCain was to share a stage with the more dynamic Obama. McCain got to D.C. and accomplished nothing. Early Thursday, he admitted he hadn’t even read the bailout plan (all three pages of it). Rep. Barney Frank openly mocked, “We’re trying to rescue the economy, not the McCain campaign.” A White House meeting with the president, the candidates, and congressional leadership became a PR disaster. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tightened the screws, saying, “He was the last person to speak at the meeting, talked for a couple of minutes, and really didn’t say anything substantive.” Not a single Republican defended McCain. His campaign staff admitted they’d walked into a Democratic “buzz saw.” Unsurprisingly, Obama’s cool demeanor played better. McCain, who’d insisted he wouldn’t debate without a bailout agreement in place, blinked. When the curtains were raised Friday evening, McCain was on stage beside a bemused Obama. The implosion was complete.