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John McCain rushes to Mississippi for the debate, but may hurry back to D.C.

September 26, 2008 | 12:27 pm

John McCain’s departure from Washington to Mississippi for tonight’s debate with Barack Obama was so rushed that when a last-minute arrival hurried aboard the plane, Secret Service agents complained they had not screened his bags, as is their duty.

Two agents opened and searched his bags in the aisle, finding nothing of note.John_mccain_in_dc

McCain advisor and pal Mark Salter spoke to reporters on the plane, saying McCain would return to Washington immediately after the debate tonight if he feels no consensus is in sight on the economic bailout package.

McCain decided only this morning, an hour or so before departure from Washington, that congressional colleagues had made enough progress to permit his taking part in the debate.

He did two or three hours of intense debate prep late last night in a room in his apartment building that the campaign has set up with podiums.

Aides threw questions and coached his performance. The campaign would not say who, if anyone, played Obama.

McCain touched down in Memphis 1:07 p.m. local time, with a contingent that included chief strategist Steve Schmidt and longtime ally and friend Sen. Lindsey Graham.

McCain will walk through the debate site upon arrival at Ole Miss in Oxford.

Tonight’s goal, said Salter: “To do well, against a guy who’s a pretty good debater, show presidential leadership, and be able to speak directly to the American people about what he believes.”

-- Bob Drogin