Debate as Scheduled, Barack Obama's Team Urges John McCain

Obama staffers are headed to Mississippi in preparation for the debate.

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Sen. Barack Obama's top aides, still planning to appear at Friday's Ole Miss debate even if Sen. John McCain doesn't, are heading to Oxford, Miss., later today. Chief spokesman Robert Gibbs, for example, told reporters that he was heading to the debate site and suggested that he'll be on a plane full of reporters and other staffers. "Stick to the long-held, long-agreed-to debate schedule," he urged the McCain team, which has pushed to delay it until the $700 billion economic package is hammered out. Picking up on Obama's comment that he can do two things at once, aides say that while the senator is working with Democrats on the economic plan, he is also practicing for his Friday debate with McCain. Gibbs, for example, says that the senator has engaged in mock debates, and others say he has looked at some old debate tapes. Still, the spin from the campaign is that the senator will have trouble keeping his long answers to the allotted time because he likes to rephrase the question, explain the problem, and then lay out a solution. "You pray to God that that isn't longer than the 45 seconds he's allotted to speak," says Gibbs. As for the need to practice, Gibbs added that both senators should be pretty much up to date on what will be asked since the issues normally come from the front-page headlines. "I don't think there will be a lot of surprises," says Gibbs.