THE BAITING WORKED…. Last week, it seemed as if the Obama campaign went out of its way to bait John McCain on the Bill Ayers “issue.” Obama, Biden, and surrogates said they were surprised McCain talked all about Ayers leading up to the debate, but not at the debate itself.

“Well, I am surprised that, you know, we’ve been seeing some pretty over-the-top attacks coming out of the McCain campaign over the last several days that he wasn’t willing to say it to my face,” Obama told ABC’s Charlie Gibson. “But I guess we’ve got one last debate.”

Obama, in this sense, was almost daring McCain to make these attacks directly.

The taunting apparently worked. This morning, McCain told a St. Louis radio station that he feels compelled to make the attack now, and it’s Obama’s fault.

“Oh, yeah. Y’know, I was astonished to hear him say that he was surprised for me to have the guts to do that, because the fact is that the question didn’t come up in that fashion. So, y’know, and I think he’s probably ensured that it will come up this time. And, look Mark, it’s not that I give a damn about some old washed-up terrorist…”

He doesn’t care about Ayers, but he feels compelled to keep talking about Ayers, and has now effectively promised to bring up Ayers at a debate. Not that he cares, though. Not at all. Perish the thought.

So, what happens now? Kevin noted the other day that there are three possible angles here.

First, McCain does nothing and ends up looking like a coward. Second, their taunts get under McCain’s skin so badly that he goes over the edge and does something really stupid. Third, McCain takes the bait and decides to bring up Ayers at the next debate.

The first two possibilities are obviously good for Obama. And the third? I guess they must be really sure they have a dynamite response ready in case McCain decides to unload next Wednesday. Either that or they’re trying to fake McCain into thinking they have a dynamite response, thus scaring him into not bringing it up. Or else, by being so obvious about it, they’re actually trying to sell McCain on the fakeout theory — and then when he falls into the trap and brings up Ayers, they’re going to crush him.

I guess we’ll find out tomorrow night.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

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.