WORKING THE PHONES…. Barack Obama returned to the campaign trail this afternoon, and held what appeared to be a pretty big rally in Greensboro, North Carolina. And how did John McCain spend his afternoon?

Even though his campaign is no longer suspended, John McCain is staying in Washington this weekend to keep working on the bailout legislation. He will not be visiting Capitol Hill, however, preferring to work out of his campaign office.

“He can effectively do what he needs to do by phone,” said senior adviser Mark Salter.

Is that so. According to the McCain campaign, the senator doesn’t really have to get directly involved in discussions about a possible Wall Street bailout; he can “do what he needs to do by phone.” If that’s the case, why “suspend” the presidential campaign at all?

For that matter, what is it, exactly, that McCain “needs to do”? There’s ample evidence he doesn’t understand the substantive details; there’s even evidence he doesn’t understand the nature of the crisis. So what kind of role does McCain hope to play in the negotiations he’s monitoring from one of his several homes?

For what it’s worth, Obama campaign spokesperson Bill Burton told reporters today that Obama spoke to more than 20,000 voters in North Carolina and found time to coordinate with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Sen. Harry Reid, and Rep. Barney Frank about the ongoing negotiations. Walking and chewing gum at the same time isn’t that hard after all….

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.