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Joint Town Hall Meetings in Jeopardy

It appears the much-discussed joint town hall meetings featuring Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama may not be happening after all, or at most there may be just one or two joint appearances, in addition to the three scheduled debates. Yesterday, Nancy Reagan and Lyndon Johnson’s children offered to host one debate each at the presidential libraries of Ronald Reagan and Johnson. This morning, the McCain camp accepted the offer with the following statement:

"We are proud to accept the invitation … As Luci Baines Johnson said in her invitation, these meetings offer an opportunity to ‘deliberate the great issues of our time.’ The American people deserve a great debate about the future of our country, and we hope that Barack Obama will join us for these important events at these historic venues."

The McCain campaign also sent another letter to the Obama camp reiterating it’s proposal of 10 joint town hall meetings — one per week until the Democratic National Convention in August. The Obama campaign countered with a proposal to meet fewer times and in a variety of formats. The Hotline reports:

"What we’ve said is we are happy to do more than the three typical presidential debates in the fall," Obama said. "If I’m not mistaken we’ve gone back with a counter-proposal to them and are in communication with them right now and our hope is is that we will have those negotiations completed soon," he said.

Ten meetings, however, seems unlikely, Obama said, "given all the campaigning that has, that I have to do since we just finished our primary election."

The senator guessed the two candidates would meet less than 10 times but more than three and would probably do so in a "mix of formats."

According to the Politico, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe gave this reply:

“Barack Obama offered to meet John McCain at five joint appearances between now and Election Day—the three traditional debates plus a joint town hall on the economy in July and an in-depth debate on foreign policy in August. That package of five engagements would have been the most of any Presidential campaign in the modern era—offering a broad range of formats—and representing a historic commitment to openness and transparency.

“It’s disappointing that Senator McCain and his campaign decided to decline this proposal. Apparently they would rather contrive a political issue than foster a genuine discussion about the future of our country. "

McCain has been eager to meet Obama in the town hall format, which plays to the Arizona senator’s strengths by allowing him to interact directly with people. While Obama is considered a gifted orator, McCain is not viewed as a strong speech maker, as evidenced by his recent performance in New Orleans. Clearly, Obama would like to mix up the formats in a way that highlights his strengths as well.

Obama missed what was to be the first joint town hall meeting in New York City last night, which was broadcast exclusively on Fox News. The event drew fire from Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean for "misrepresenting the makeup of the audience." The event, unlike most of McCain’s town hall meetings, was closed to the public. Fox’s Shephard Smith revealed afterward that tickets had been distributed to McCain supporters, not to Republicans, Democrats and Independents as the McCain campaign had originally reported. Obviously, this sort of chicanery probably doesn’t help McCain’s case for holding future joint meetings.

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