WASHINGTON — Republican presidential nominee John McCain is pulling campaign television advertising out of Democratic-leaning Michigan and diverting staff and other resources to more competitive states.
Campaign and Republican Party officials said that McCain's ads would end, direct mailings would halt and campaign staff would be reassigned from the Midwestern battleground state, which has 17 electoral votes.
Several Michigan polls have found Obama with a clear lead over McCain, an edge fueled recently by the nation's economic crisis. A Detroit Free Press poll finds Obama ahead of McCain by 51 to 38 percent. When they were asked which candidate is more likely to fight for the concerns most important to them and their families, 56 percent of Michiganders said Obama and 36 percent said McCain.
McCain's campaign had set its sights on Michigan, mindful of his 2000 primary victory there and voters' unhappiness with Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, and confident that they could attract the state's blue-collar voters.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, flew directly to Michigan after the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn. They presided over a large rally in Macomb County, just outside Detroit. McCain and Palin also held a town hall meeting last week in Grand Rapids.
McCain campaign officials tried to downplay its exit from Michigan.
"The operations will be scaled back, but we'll still be in place in Michigan," said Mike DuHaime, the campaign's political director. "Resources in terms of some staff and other resources will be moved to Maine, where we will be opening up an aggressive front . . . also specifically to Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, two states we feel very strongly about."
"We played in Michigan to spread the field on Obama," one McCain adviser said in an e-mail. He asked not to be identified because he wasn't authorized to discuss campaign strategy publicly.
He added: "If we win FL, MO, NC, VA, IN and OH — all states Republicans have won for decades — that puts us at 260 electoral votes. We need to find 10 electoral votes from CO, NV, NM, NH, MN, WI and PA. Frankly, we have an easier map than Obama, He's on the defense."
Polls suggest otherwise; Obama is ahead narrowly in Florida, Virginia and Ohio, for example, as well as in most of the seven states the aide cited as second-tier priorities.
McCain's move came as Obama campaigned Thursday in Michigan and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the son of former Michigan Gov. George Romney, held a conference call to tout McCain's chances in Michigan.
However, Romney acknowledged that McCain is slipping in the Wolverine State.
"The polls, of course have bounced around a good deal, and while you don't pay a lot of attention to polls at this stage, nonetheless the trend has not been in the right direction," Romney said. "I think it's a winnable state for Senator McCain, and I think it's a must-win state for Barack Obama. ... John McCain has to simply describe the policies that Barack Obama stands for and ask Michiganders would those policies strengthen Michigan or hurt it?"
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY