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Ex-Adviser: McCain "Blinked," Campaign "Governed By Tactics, Not Ideology"

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After days of saying that John McCain would not attend Friday's presidential debate unless an agreement on a bailout package for the markets was "locked-down," the McCain campaign has gone back on its word.

On Friday, it announced that the Senator would head down to Mississippi even though, as they readily admit, much work remained needed on the bailout agreement.

The whole episode left even conservatives admitting that the McCain campaign looked erratic and a bit foolish with no apparent direction or guiding principle.

"It just proves his campaign is governed by tactics and not ideology," said Republican consultant Craig Shirley, who advised McCain earlier in this cycle. "In the end, he blinked and Obama did not. The 'steady hand in a storm' argument looks now to more favor Obama, not McCain."

Shirley added, "My guess is that plasma units are rushing to the McCain campaign as we speak to replace the blood flowing there from the fights among the staff."

Adding to the rocky perception was a McCain campaign web ad released this morning declaring "McCain Wins Debate!" -- put out even before the candidate had announced he was planning to debate.

Aides to Barack Obama were not, generally, surprised by the announcement, though nonetheless pleased. One called the Arizona Republican's gambit - of leaving the trail to supposedly forge a compromise on the bailout - a "failure." Other Democrats were equally biting in describing the moment.

"It means that people think he went back on his word," said Howard Wolfson, formerly the communications director for Hillary Clinton. "John McCain's presidential campaign has been in a death spiral since the Wall Street collapse and this summit gambit was an attempt to pull out of it. But it hasn't succeeded because McCain hasn't done anything to move the ball forward."

Allies of McCain tried to put the best spin on the announcement, saying that while the bailout legislation was not yet completed, McCain thought it best to address the nation.

"What's more important than anything that when we go to Mississippi tonight, both candidates can say that the Congress is working," said Sen. Lindsay Graham

But others couldn't help but admit that the Arizona Republican had mismanaged the whole scenario, basically walking himself into a corner, stuck with the choice of looking either scared or unprincipled.

"He will been seen as blinking first," Shirley declared, "since it was he who said he wasn't going until the crisis is averted. Hobson's choice, painted in a corner, bollixed -- pick your poison, or pick your cliche."