Under normal circumstances, the last place a presidential candidate wants to be is in the Senate working on legislation. But given the logjam keeping the bailout from moving forward, it might make tactical sense for both Obama and McCain to return to Washington to lead the effort to get ball moving again (not just vote on the package but lead the effort to craft the package).
By playing a leading role on the bailout, McCain can address the very real concern (articulated by several recent polls) that he is ill-equipped to handle the financial crisis and be a steward of the economy. Obama, meanwhile, can demonstrate in real time that he is ready to lead and neutralize the negative tagline the GOP often uses against him in its ads.
There are plenty of arguments against either candidate returning to work on the bailout (the process will become politicized to the point of being paralyzed, the egos of the other Members of Congress, it sends a mixed message to the markets about who is in charge)… But from a tactical vantage point, this crisis allows for a substantive congressional role which means that presidential candidates who are senators can participate.
I’d be shocked if either Obama or McCain went back to Washington at this point but had one of them done so earlier and been successful, we might be talking about how McCain or Obama neutralized one of their top negatives by rolling the dice and demonstrating meaningful leadership in real time.