This question arose, not for the first time, after I’d read an article co-authored by Alex Cockburn posted at The gist of the article was that possibly John McCain has had a relapse of melanoma that has, this time, metastasized to the lymph nodes. From Is McCain a Lot Sicker Than We Know?:

On September 20, 2008, CounterPunch was contacted by a reader in Washington, D.C., reporting conversations pointing to a dramatic, recent worsening in McCan’s medical condition and prognosis.

Though pressed by CounterPunch the reader insists on remaining anonymous. Over the course of several exchanges with our reader, we can report the following. An official in the National Institutes of Health, well known to our reader, has confided to her that in an informal conversation with a doctor in a California hospital the NIH official had learned that there had been a metastasis of McCain’s melanoma, and that this had come to light in a checkup in the past few weeks.

Urged to reconfirm this news and to provide further details, our reader pressed the NIH official for more details and reported back to us on September 26 that after she had asked the NIH official to verify the details, the official:

“decided this was important, and contacted her doctor friend to get what info she could. So here it is. John McCain recently was diagnosed with a melanoma recurrence, with a metastasis to the lymph node, in his latest, most recent cancer checkup, which took place at John Wayne Cancer Institute in California.”

This raises the possibility of McCain bowing out even before the general election, Nov 4th.
According to the GOP party rule no. 9, Filling Vacancies in Nominations:

(a) The Republican National Committee is hereby authorized and empowered to fill any and all vacancies which may occur by reason of death, declination, or otherwise of the Republican candidate for President of the United States or the Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States, as nominated by the national convention, or the Republican National Committee may reconvene the national convention for the purpose of filling any such vacancies.

(b) In voting under this rule, the Republican National Committee members representing any state shall be entitled to cast the same number of votes as said state was entitled to cast at the national convention.

(c) In the event that the members of the Republican National Committee from any state shall not be in agreement in the casting of votes hereunder, the votes of such state shall be divided equally, including fractional votes among the members of the Republican National Committee present or voting by proxy.

(d) No candidate shall be chosen to fill any such vacancy except upon receiving a majority of the votes entitled to be cast in the election.

Section (d) implies that a plurality of votes is insufficient for choosing someone to fill a vacancy. Moreover, it applies only to vacancies. The vp candidate could remain in the race.

In comparison, the Democratic Party guidelines indicate that the Democratic National Committee would be responsible for filling the vacancies on their national ticket:


Filling a Vacancy on the National Ticket: In the event of death, resignation or disability of a nominee of the Party for President or Vice President after the adjournment of the National Convention, the National Chairperson of the Democratic National Committee shall confer with the Democratic leadership of the United States Congress and the Democratic Governors Association and shall report to the Democratic National Committee, which is authorized to fill the vacancy or vacancies.

If McCain were to bow out after winning the general election but before the Electoral College vote on December 15, the vacancy created would presumably be filled by the party and the votes would go to that candidate. If he bowed out after that date, the 20th amendment to the Constitution would most likely come into play and the vp would become the next president, especially after Congress counted the electors’ votes and declared the winner on January 6. I believe it would be moot if the Democratic Party ticket won the election.

There could be errors here. Information about this question is not easy to come by, tho, I’ve seen others asking similar questions in my brief research on the Internets™. I hope others will make corrections or amendments in the comments section, prn.