WASHINGTON - In a major concession, Republican John McCain has abandoned efforts to win Michigan, a Democratic-leaning battleground state the GOP presidential candidate had hoped to capture. Republican officials with knowledge of the strategy said the GOP nominee is removing staff, curtailing advertising and canceling visits to the Midwestern state, which offers 17 electoral votes.
Resources will be sent to Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida and other competitive states.
News of McCain's decision came as Democrat Barack Obama prepared to take the stage for a rally at Michigan State University, his third event in the state in five days. If he knew about McCain's plans, Obama didn't mention it and continued to criticize his rival's economic policies as just a continuation of the Bush administration philosophy.
"My opponents' philosophy isn't just wrongheaded, it reveals out how out of touch he really is," Obama told more than 15,000 who gathered on a chilly fall afternoon.
Word of the strategy change also came as attention was focused on the vice presidential debate between Republican Sarah Palin and Democrat Joe Biden.
Democrat John Kerry won Michigan in 2004, but McCain had identified it early on as a potential target, particularly in light of Obama's troubles with white working-class voters. But the terrain in Michigan was never friendly. It has a Democratic governor, and Republican strategists said the state's poor economy and McCain's association with the unpopular President Bush proved too much for the GOP nominee to overcome.
Those problems, they said, became more acute for McCain in Michigan following the Wall Street collapse.
That doesn't bode well for a Republican trying maneuver in an increasingly difficult political environment.
The move came as McCain struggles to gain traction with the financial crisis consuming the presidential campaign and commanding voters' attention. Polls nationally and in key states show the Democratic nominee with a lead, one that some McCain backers fear and Obama supporters hope may hold.
One GOP official said McCain's campaign made the decision to pull out of Michigan on Wednesday night, and conveyed the orders to staffers midday Thursday.
Earlier, a local news station reported that McCain canceled a trip to the state next week without explanation. Then, Democrats and Republicans who track the campaign's advertising said the Republican did not buy airtime for Michigan for next week, though he did so for every other state where he's been on the air. And, there was no indication that the Republican National Committee would continue running ads there either.
It's costly to run advertising in the state; McCain's campaign was spending $1 million a week in the state. But polls showed a backward slide for McCain in the economically ailing state where he is closely aligned with Bush.
One month before the election, the Electoral College map continues to shrink as both sides adjust their strategies daily as they seek the best possible state-by-state path to the 270 votes needed for victory.
Earlier, Obama abandoned efforts in Alaska, Georgia and North Dakota after boasting about running a 50-state campaign, though he 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.
A McCain aide said the campaign is opening up a front in Maine, which Kerry won four years ago and which offers four electoral votes. His campaign checked advertising rates in media markets there this week.