IN THE HEADLINES
McCain optimistic at news of agreement in principle, no change in debate status ... Palin defends claim that living so close to Russia makes for foreign policy experience ... Biden chokes up at Pa. rally recalling Steelers' kindness during tough time for his family ... Palin kept donations from tainted Alaska politicians, including one she urged to step down
No change yet in McCain debate status
WASHINGTON (AP) - Prospects improved that John McCain and Barack Obama would have their first presidential debate Friday as Congress made progress toward an agreement with the Bush administration on a $700 billion bailout of the financial industry.
McCain's campaign has said the Republican wouldn't participate in the debate unless there was a consensus. Obama still wants the face-off to go on, and the Democrat is slated to travel to the debate site in Mississippi on Friday.
"There's no deal until there's a deal," McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said after Republicans and Democrats agreed in principle to terms of the bailout. He said the developments did not change McCain's plans, though he added: "We're optimistic but we want to get this thing done."
Senior McCain adviser Mark Salter did not rule out attending the debate, saying: "We've got to see."
The debate over the debate is the latest campaign twist as McCain and Obama try to navigate the uncharted politics of the financial meltdown and show leadership at a time of national angst. The two met with President Bush and bipartisan congressional leaders Thursday afternoon at the White House to discuss the crisis. They sat three seats away from the president - McCain to his right, Obama to his left.
In interview, Palin defends Alaska-Russia remark
NEW YORK (AP) - Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin defended her remark that the proximity of Russia to her home state of Alaska gives her foreign policy experience, explaining in a CBS interview airing Thursday that "we have trade missions back and forth."
Palin has never visited Russia, and the 44-year-old Alaska governor had not traveled outside North America until last year. She also had never met a foreign leader until her trip this week to New York. In the CBS interview, she did not offer any examples of having been involved in any negotiations with the Russians.
Palin's foreign policy experience came up when she gave her first major interview, on Sept. 11 to ABC News. Asked what insight she had gained from living so close to Russia, she said: "They're our next-door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska."
When Couric asked how Alaska's closeness to Russia enhanced her foreign policy experience, Palin said, "Well, it certainly does because our ... our next-door neighbors are foreign countries." Alaska shares a border with Canada.
Palin didn't answer directly when Couric inquired about whether she had been involved in any negotiations with the Russians.
Biden chokes up recalling Steelers' kindness
GREENSBURG, Pa. (AP) - Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden teared up Thursday when he shared a vignette about how former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rocky Bleier presented his two young sons with autographed footballs after a fatal crash that killed his wife and daughter.
Biden wiped away tears at a campaign appearance in Greensburg, 20 miles east of Pittsburgh, as he told the story after team owner Dan Rooney's introduction.
Though Biden represented Delaware, where he said one was either a Baltimore Colts or Philadelphia Eagles fan, he said his boys Beau and Hunter "liked the black and gold," drawing applause from the crowd.
After the December 1972 crash, Biden had been keeping vigil in the hospital for his sons, but left to buy them a Christmas tree a couple days before Christmas.
"I came back and they, they looked like they had lighted up like Christmas trees. My one little boy was in traction and the other little boy had a seriously fractured skull and they were happy, and they each had separately, they had footballs in their beds," he said.
Biden paused for about 10 seconds in the Greensburg Salem High School gym to compose himself and the crowd applauded.
Palin kept donations from tainted politicians
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Sarah Palin felt so strongly about the public corruption indictment of a Republican state senator this summer that she urged him to resign - but not strongly enough to return the $1,000 he gave to help elect her governor.
The donation from John Cowdery was one of three from Alaska legislators who contributed to Palin's 2006 campaign weeks after the FBI raided their offices. The sprawling public corruption scandal that followed became a rallying point for candidate Palin, who was swept into office after promising voters she would rid Alaska's capital of dirty politics.
One of the three donors is in prison, another is awaiting trial and Cowdery was indicted in July on two federal bribery counts. Palin, now GOP presidential nominee John McCain's running mate, has not returned any of their donations, according to campaign finance disclosures reviewed Thursday.
The contributions to the Palin-Sean Parnell campaign fund do not suggest any wrongdoing - lawmakers typically spread donations around to other candidates, and none had any obvious connection to the rising Republican star before she took office.
Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain are tied at 46 percent among registered voters, according to the latest Gallup Poll daily tracking update.
Barack Obama spoke by satellite to the Clinton Global Initiative and attended White House leadership meeting on economic crisis in Washington.
Joe Biden campaigned in Greensburg, Pa., and Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
John McCain and Sarah Palin attended the Clinton Global Initiative in New York. McCain also attended White House economic meeting.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
"It is difficult to act both quickly and wisely, but that is what is required of us right now. Time is short, and doing nothing is not an option." - John McCain, speaking to the Clinton Global Initiative in New York on Thursday.
STAT OF THE DAY:
Twenty-one percent of Clinton loyalists said Sarah Palin on the GOP ticket makes them likelier to back John McCain, 21 percent said it makes them less likely and 58 percent said it had no impact, according to an AP-Yahoo News poll.