Just in from the McCain campaign: An invitation to conduct joint town hall meetings, one a week, from now until the conventions. A strategic gimmick? Sure, at least in part. But it's a smart one.

As I was saying, until August Obama won't have a chance to shine in a prime-time speech like he did last night. Instead, the campaign will take place in other venues in which he doesn't enjoy such a pronounced stylistic advantages. And town hall forums have always been where McCain looked best.

Of course, Obama is no slouch at these sorts of events, either. He presided over just such an event in Michigan this week and was superb.

As a fan of deliberative democracy, I'm all for this idea. And while I'll leave more sophisticated strategic assessments to more sophisticated analysts, I will say that when the issues are on your side--as they seem to be for Obama right now--these sorts of events ought to work to your advantage.

Here's the text of McCain's letter: 

Dear Senator Obama:

In 1963, Senator Barry Goldwater and President John F. Kennedy agreed to make presidential campaign history by flying together from town to town and debating each other face-to-face on the same stage. In Goldwater's words, those debates "would have done the country a lot of good." Unfortunately, with President Kennedy's untimely death, Americans lost the rare opportunity of witnessing candidates for the highest office in the land discuss civilly and extensively the great issues at stake in the election. What a welcome change it would be were presidential candidates in our time to treat each other and the people they seek to lead with respect and courtesy as they discussed the great issues of the day, without the empty sound bites and media-filtered exchanges that dominate our elections. It is in the spirit of President Kennedy's and Senator Goldwater's agreement, in the spirit of the politics of change, and to do our country good, that I invite you to join me in participating in town hall meetings across the country to discuss the most important issues facing Americans. I also suggest we fly together to the first town hall meeting as a symbolically important act embracing the politics of civility.

I propose these town hall meetings be as free from the regimented trappings, rules and spectacle of formal debates as possible, and that we pledge to the American people we will not allow the idea to die on the negotiation table as our campaigns work out the details. I suggest we agree to participate in at least ten town halls once a week with the first on June 11 or 12 in New York City at Federal Hall until the week before the Democratic Convention begins at locations to be determined by our campaigns. Federal Hall is particularly fitting as it was the place where George Washington took the oath of office as our first President and the birthplace of American government hosting the first Congress, Supreme Court and Executive Branch offices. These town halls should be attended by an audience of between two to four hundred selected by an independent polling agency, could be sixty to ninety minutes in length, have very limited moderation by an independ ent local moderator, take blind questions from the audience selected by the moderator and allow for equally proportional time for answers by each of us. All of these are suggestions that can be finalized by our campaigns. What is important is that we commit to participate in these history making meetings to join in the higher level of discourse that Americans clearly would prefer.

To show our good faith, we should both commit to the first town hall I have suggested. In the mean time, we can work out dates for future town hall meetings.

I look forward to your favorable reply and to the opportunity to work with you to give Americans a better opportunity to understand our differences, our agreements and the leadership we offer them.


John McCain

--Jonathan Cohn