IN THE HEADLINES
First presidential debate is on as McCain agrees to participate ... Biden meets Georgian president without reporters during opening photo opportunity ... David Letterman commiserates with Paris Hilton over McCain 'disses' ... Palin says she will donate money from those implicated in federal corruption probe
The debate is on; McCain agrees to participate
WASHINGTON (AP) - Republican John McCain agreed to attend the first presidential debate Friday night even though Congress doesn't have a bailout deal, reversing an earlier decision to delay the event until Washington had taken action to address the crisis.
With less than 10 hours until the debate was scheduled to start, the McCain campaign announced that the Arizona senator would travel to the University of Mississippi. The campaign said that afterward McCain would return to Washington to continue working on the financial crisis.
Obama had always planned to attend the debate and was aboard his plane preparing to take off when McCain's announcement was made. McCain quickly moved to his own private aircraft and headed South with his wife and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his wife, Judith, on board.
The action contradicted the position McCain had taken Wednesday, when he announced, "I'm directing my campaign to work with the Obama campaign and the Commission on Presidential Debates to delay Friday night's debate until we have taken action to address this crisis."
McCain had also said he would suspend all campaign activities, but in reality the campaign just shifted to Washington while the work of trying to win the election went on.
McCain had taken a gamble with the move, trying to appear above politics and as a leader on an issue that had overshadowed the presidential campaign and given him trouble. But Democratic rival Barack Obama had not bowed to McCain's challenge, and instead questioned why the Republican nominee couldn't handle two things at once - the debate and involvement in the bailout negotiations.
Georgian president thanks Biden for support
MILWAUKEE (AP) - Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili personally thanked Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden for flying to his country to show support during the Russian invasion last month.
"You came straight into the middle of the conflict. ... That was very brave of you," Saakashvili told Biden before they began a private meeting here Friday. "I certainly will not forget that, and my people are not going to forget it."
Biden told the Georgian president, whom he has known since before he become president, "I was happy to do that and thought it was important to show American solidarity and support." Biden added that Russia must not be allowed to bring down a democratically elected government, that the U.S. and Europe should provide substantial economic aid to George and that Russia should be penalized for its actions.
The remarks came at the beginning of the two-hour meeting between Biden, who was in Wisconsin to campaign, and Saakashvili in a hotel conference room while photographers and a television producer were allowed in for five minutes. At the end of the brief statements, Biden asked for questions, but there were none.
The remarks were provided by CBS News producer Arden Farhi, who was in the room and provided a pool report for other reporters who were not. An Associated Press reporter and two reporters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel were not allowed to join the photo opportunity.
Obama campaign spokesman David Wade said he understood the three reporters arrived too late.
Letterman keeps up verbal assault on John McCain
NEW YORK (AP) - David Letterman kept up his verbal assault on John McCain, commiserating with Paris Hilton and saying he felt like an "ugly date" because the GOP presidential candidate backed out of an appearance on the "Late Show."
The late-night CBS comedian was upset Wednesday when McCain canceled an appearance to deal with the economic crisis. After backing out of the Letterman show, McCain sat for an interview with Katie Couric, then didn't leave New York until Thursday, further angering Letterman.
At first, Letterman said, he felt like a "patriot" to let McCain off.
"Now I'm feeling like an ugly date," Letterman said. "I feel used. I feel cheap. I feel sullied."
McCain spokeswoman Nicolle Wallace said the campaign "felt this wasn't a night for comedy."
"We deeply regret offending Mr. Letterman, but our candidate's priority at this moment is to focus on this crisis," Wallace said Thursday on NBC's "Today."
Later Thursday, Letterman banged away at McCain in his opening monologue.
"You're here on a good night," he told the audience. "So far none of our guests have canceled."
Palin giving back tainted money from gov. campaign
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Gov. Sarah Palin, touted by Republican presidential nominee John McCain as a reformer when he picked her to be his running mate, says she will donate to charity more than $1,000 in campaign contributions from two Alaska politicians implicated in a federal corruption probe.
Palin said Thursday she also is giving back $1,000 from the wife of one of the men. The move came a few hours after The Associated Press reported that Palin had accepted the money during her successful 2006 run for governor. Palin was elected easily after she promised to rid Alaska's capital of dirty politics.
"Gov. Palin has made a career of holding herself to the highest standards of ethics. As soon as the governor learned of the donations today, she immediately decided to donate them to charity," campaign spokesman Taylor Griffin said.
Palin took aim at gift-giving to state officials as part of her ethics agenda but received thousands of dollars' worth of gifts since she took office nearly two years ago. State records dating back to 2006, when Palin took office, show that Palin or her family received 29 gifts valued at about $14,500.
The gifts - from industry executives, municipalities and even a Canadian energy official - included such items as a trampoline and safety net valued at $340 from the Juneau Governor's Prayer Breakfast Committee and a gold-nugget pin valued at $1,200 from the City of Nome to an $865 set of Nome Collector's Plates, which she noted on an ethics disclosure form would remain at the governor's house.
Democrat Barack Obama holds a slight edge over Republican John McCain - 48 percent to McCain's 45 percent - among registered voters, according to the latest Gallup Poll daily tracking update.
Barack Obama planned to participate in a presidential debate at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss.
Joe Biden was scheduled to attend a fish fry in Cudahy, Wis.
John McCain planned to participate in the presidential debate in Oxford, Miss.
Sarah Palin planned to watch the debate in Philadelphia.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
"At this point, my strong sense is that the best thing that I can do, rather than to inject presidential politics into these delicate negotiations, is to go down to Mississippi and explain to the American people what is going on and my vision for leading the country over the next four years." - Barack Obama, to reporters Friday.
STAT OF THE DAY:
A recent AP-Yahoo News poll found that 18 percent of likely voters are up for grabs - undecided or willing to change their minds about Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.
Compiled by Ann Sanner.
(This version CORRECTS Biden item to indicate that not all reporters were barred from the meeting.)