McCain Backs Out of Debate In California

Sound familiar?

With new polls showing his campaign dead in the water among California Republicans, Arizona Sen. John McCain has pulled out of a long-scheduled debate with Texas Gov. George Bush, set for Thursday in Los Angeles.

McCain campaign officials tried desperately yesterday to put the best face on their withdrawal, even as a new Field Poll showed Bush far ahead among likely Republican voters in the winner-take-all race for the state’s 162 GOP delegates.

Top campaign officials attributed McCain’s decision to Bush’s earlier reluctance to appear at the debate.

“We had agreed to do this debate a long time ago, and Gov. Bush said he wasn’t going to do it,” McCain spokesman Howard Opinsky said yesterday. “We aren’t going to hold our schedule together forever.”

But Opinsky said McCain will debate Bush on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, a national TV show that will reach millions of Americans.

Still, just last week, the McCain campaign was openly derisive of Bush’s reluctance to commit to a California debate — and promised its own candidate would be there.