Breaking news from our colleagues at The Michigan Messenger:
I just got a call from LoRayne from the Michelle Obama rally in Saginaw. She learned on the floor of the rally that rumors are flying that John McCain is suspending his campaign in Michigan.
This is unconfirmed, but Politco’s Jonathan Martin is reporting the surprising development.
McCain will go off TV in Michigan, stop dropping mail there and send most of his staff to more competitive states, including Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida. Wisconsin went for Kerry in 2004, Ohio and Florida for Bush.
No confirmation has yet come in from the McCain campaign.
If this is true, it will be a shock to state Republicans, who have been no doubt overjoyed at the Arizona senator’s Mario-like persistence in visiting Michigan almost weekly for the past two months.
Also, if true, it will be fascinating to see if the campaign pulls up stakes on its regional headquarters in Farmington Hills, rented from foreclosure specialists and close friend Trott & Trott.
UPDATE: MSNBC is confirming that the McCain-Palin Michigan campaign is pulling its resources from the state and speculates on the motives.
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.
— Wendy Norris
UPDATE #2: The McCain campaign held a hurried conference call with reporters this afternoon at 3:45 p.m. MDT. The Detroit Free Press confirms that McCain pulls out of Michigan:
Winning Michigan’s 17 electoral votes, captured in the last four presidential elections by Democrats, had been a major part of McCain’s campaign strategy. But recent polls have shown Michigan slipping from the Arizona Republican’s grasp, including a poll by Public Policy Polling released Thursday that showed Democrat Barack Obama with a 51 to 41 percent lead in the state. A Detroit News/WXYZ Action News poll published last week put the contest at 48-38 percent, with Obama on top.
The move would allow the McCain campaign to move resources into other states that his camp believes are still competitive. But it also means Obama’s campaign can do the same, giving the Democrat — who leads in most national polls — a significant advantage in the final four weeks of the campaign.
With Michigan off the battleground list, McCain’s chances of winning a state carried by Democrats is considerably damaged. New Hampshire is now the Democratic state from 2004 most likely to change hands, but with four electoral votes, it’s a far smaller prize than Michigan.
Obama, meanwhile, remains competitive in several states won by President Bush in 2004, including Ohio, Colorado, Florida, Virginia, and even formerly uncompetitive states such as North Carolina and Indiana. The number of Republican states in play gives Obama several avenues to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House, and if Michigan is no longer in play, McCain’s margin for error is nearly gone.