By Perry Bacon Jr. and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 3, 2008
EAST LANSING, Mich., Oct. 2 -- Sen. John McCain on Thursday officially abandoned his efforts to win in Michigan, deeming it a lost cause after internal polls showed the Republican presidential nominee trailing badly in the economically hard-hit state, according to officials with the campaign and the state party.
McCain will cease airing television ads in the state, and most of his staff will be redirected to other battlegrounds, including Maine, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, campaign officials said. Plans for direct mail in Michigan will be canceled and no new field offices will be opened as the campaign enters its final weeks.
In the face of falling poll numbers in a number of key swing states, McCain senior adviser Greg Strimple called Michigan "the worst state of all of the states that are in play. It's an obvious one, from my view, to come off the list."
McCain made that call as his rival, Sen. Barack Obama, pressed his advantage in the Wolverine State with two big rallies where he accused the Republican of being part of the problem that led to the nation's current financial crisis.
"Over the past few days, he's talked a lot about getting tough on Wall Street, but over the past few decades, he's fought against the very rules of the road that could have stopped this mess," Obama told thousands gathered at Michigan State University here.
Predicting that the monthly federal job report that will be released Friday will show an increase in unemployment for the ninth straight month, Obama again cast the senator from Arizona as out of touch, saying that "he just doesn't get it."
"Just the other week, my opponent, John McCain, said, and I quote, 'The fundamentals of the economy are strong,' " Obama said. "Well, I don't know what yardstick Senator McCain uses, but where I come from, there's nothing more fundamental than a job."
Public polls in the state show Obama with a clear edge and with momentum on his side. The senator from Illinois hit 51 percent in the new Seltzer and Co. poll for the Detroit Free Press, stretching 13 points ahead of McCain in Michigan.
Obama has made his own strategic retreats, scaling back his initial ambitions for a "50-state" strategy by pulling out of states such as Georgia, North Dakota and Alaska after polls showed the Republican opening a wide lead in them.
As is the case in national polling, it appears to be Obama's edge on handling the economy that has propelled him to the top of the polls in Michigan. In the Free Press survey, Obama held a 15-point lead on fixing problems with the national economy, and had an even bigger edge -- 20 points -- on the question of which candidate is "more likely to fight for the concerns most important to you and your family."
Michigan Republican officials said they received the call from McCain headquarters about noon informing them of the decision to pull out of the state, which Democratic nominees won in 2004 and 2000.
"They said they are pulling the trigger, and that was it. No explanation as to why," said Bill Nowling, a spokesman for the state party. "Obviously, everybody is disappointed. It sends a message to people that Michigan is lost. I don't think that is necessarily true."
One senior Republican close to the campaign called Michigan "an economic basket case" and said angst about the economy in the state has been the chief cause of the dropping poll numbers.
But McCain advisers fought back against the perception that the decision in Michigan reflects a broader problem for the campaign.
The Republican National Committee announced its best fundraising month ever, a $66 million September haul that officials said will help McCain compete with his rival's well-funded operation.
In a conference call with reporters, Strimple and McCain political director Mike DuHaime said McCain is successfully pressuring Obama in battleground states such as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. DuHaime said that some of the resources from Michigan will be redirected to Maine, which allocates two of its four electoral votes by district. The campaign aims to win the single electoral vote in the northern Maine district (where senior McCain adviser Mark Salter owns a vacation home).
The campaign is "opening an aggressive front" in Maine, DuHaime said.
DuHaime and Strimple dismissed the rash of recent polling showing Obama leading in some reliably Republican states, such as Indiana and Virginia. Neither has been a battleground in years, but McCain officials include both in the list of states they intend to compete for feverishly.
McCain and the RNC announced this week that they are opening 12 additional regional headquarters across Virginia. The new offices will be in Sterling, Yorktown, Charlottesville, Woodbridge, Blacksburg, Norfolk, Abingdon, Richmond, Springfield, Gainesville, Danville and Mechanicsville.
McCain will now have two dozen offices in Virginia. Obama has 43 offices there. Obama and the Democratic Party also have about 200 paid staff members working in the state, according to Democratic officials and campaign finance reports.
McCain's advisers said that current polls reflect Obama's greater spending on television ads in the competitive states. Once McCain puts his message on the air, Strimple predicted, the poll numbers will "snap back aggressively in our favor."
Aides said their message will increasingly focus on what they assert is Obama's liberal record.
McCain made that point himself Thursday before the vice presidential debate. Campaigning in Denver, he previewed what are likely to be his main lines of attack against Obama at the next presidential face-off -- namely that the Democrat would raise taxes, grow the size of government and not work across the aisle.
McCain said he will try to draw out these differences with Obama on Tuesday in Nashville, saying the two have "a fundamental disagreement about who is best able to help our economy, whether it be through lower taxes and less government and more job opportunities. . . . Senator Obama has a clear record of wanting government to do the job that citizens do."
Shear reported from Washington. Staff writers Michael Abramowitz, traveling with McCain, and Tim Craig in Richmond contributed to this report.