In a major concession, John McCain decided to abandon campaign efforts in Michigan, pull advertising, cancel scheduled campaign visits and reassign staffers to other battleground states.
A GOP official told The Associated Press the campaign made the decision Wednesday night and passed on the withdrawal orders to staffers yesterday, after which the Republican presidential nominee’s campaign confirmed the decision to withdraw from the battleground state.
“Operations will be scaled back,” said Mike DuHaime, the campaign’s political director.
The decision marked the first time either McCain or his Democratic rival, Barack Obama, has tacitly conceded a traditional battleground state in the race for the White House.
McCain’s campaign was spending $1 million a week in Michigan, which holds 17 electoral votes, and will now divert those resources to other states.
The campaign made the decision Wednesday night, as polls showed the Democratic nominee increasing his lead over McCain. A poll released last week by the Detroit Free Press and conducted by Selzer & Co. showed Obama with a 13-point lead in Michigan.
Brady Smith, chair of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, said the move marks a new strategy for the state.
“It’s going to rely on people who are passionate for John McCain,” Smith said.
Smith said he saw the move to “stragetically redeploy” resources as smart, adding that the decision doesn’t represent a lack of concern for the state.
“John McCain cares about the state of Michigan,” Smith said. “That’s why he made it such an important state after the convention.”
Political Science Prof. Michael Traugott said McCain’s move to reallocate resources shows he’s admitting defeat in the state, but looking to other states to win the 270 electoral votes necessary for the presidency.
“In John McCain’s case, he has somewhat more limited resources than Barack Obama,” Traugott said. “They feel as though they have a better chance of winning electoral votes in some other states than Michigan, and that’s where they should spend the money in advertising.”
In a campaign now unfolding across more than a dozen states, the decision means Obama can shift money to other states like Virginia, Colorado and North Carolina, where he is trying to eat into traditional Republican territory. McCain’s resources will be sent to Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida and other more competitive states, and aides said he would try to put Maine into play as well.
By pulling out of vote-rich Michigan, McCain conceded a large part of the electoral map in the heart of the industrial Midwest.
The move underscored McCain’s troubles on the economy, which he has acknowledged is not his strongest subject. It also underscored his struggle to beat an opponent who has the money to compete in many states President Bush won four years ago. Polls show Obama has pulled ahead or tied McCain in many of those states.
Along with giving up Michigan, McCain’s campaign said it is opening a front in Maine, which Kerry won four years ago and which offers four electoral votes allocated between the statewide winner and the winner in its two congressional districts. The Arizona senator’s campaign checked advertising rates in media markets there this week.
Obama already has abandoned efforts in Alaska, Georgia and North Dakota, but the Democrat has succeeded in making traditional Republican strongholds Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia competitive. Both sides are battling it out in those states, where public polls show Obama ahead or tied.
The two campaigns are squaring off with increasing intensity in Colorado, Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, which Bush won in 2004, and Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, which went to Kerry.
Obama also is making a limited effort in the traditional GOP bastion of Montana and McCain is going after Democratic-tilting Minnesota.
“This is a meaningful moment strategically,” said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe. “Their narrow path just got narrower.”
McCain had identified Michigan early on as a potential target, particularly in light of Obama’s troubles with white working-class voters in other Rust Belt primaries. Obama also skipped Michigan earlier in the campaign because of a Democratic Party fight over its primary date and didn’t set up a campaign organization there during the primary.
But Michigan posed other difficulties for McCain. It has a Democratic governor and the nation’s highest annual average unemployment rate since 2006. McCain’s Senate voting record aligned with unpopular President Bush, a theme hammered by Obama, and proved too much for the GOP nominee to overcome.
Republican strategists said those troubles became more acute for McCain in Michigan after the Wall Street collapse, and both public and private polls showed him sliding. On Wednesday night, the campaign decided that the $1 million a week it was spending in Michigan wasn’t worth it with internal polls showing Obama approaching a double-digit lead.
“It’s been the worst state of all the states that are in play and it’s an obvious one, from my perspective, to come off the list,” said Greg Strimple, a McCain senior adviser.
McCain’s decision didn’t go over well with at least some Michigan Republicans.
“We want him in Michigan. We want him to hear our issues,” said Mike Bishop, the top-ranking Republican in the state Legislature.
— Daily Staff Reporter Julie Rowe contributed to this report.