The electoral map shrank for John McCain when he abandoned his campaign in Michigan last week, raising the stakes in other battleground states such as Ohio.
That may be even more of a high-stakes game than the McCain campaign gambled on, though, as a new ABC News/Washington Post poll indicates Barack Obama has taken a commanding lead in Ohio, in large part because of the area's economic difficulties.
Obama was ahead of McCain by 51 percent to 45 percent among likely voters in Ohio if the election were today, according to the poll. Though 18 percent of the respondents said they had not yet made up their minds for sure, Obama had the advantage of the sheer energy of his backers: Fifty-eight percent of his Ohio supporters are "very enthusiastic" about his candidacy, compared with just 30 percent of McCain's.
The Arizona senator said he would end his campaign in Michigan in order to better concentrate his attention and campaign funds on other battleground states, ceding Michigan's 17 electoral votes to Obama and conceding to the economic realities of the financial crisis and his own coffers.
Given the constraints imposed on him by federal fundraising regulations and economic problems throughout the battleground states, some supporters in key swing states, such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, wonder if McCain will be able to effectively close the gap where it matters most.
Even his own advisers admit that the current economic crisis, along with an incumbent Republican administration, has hurt McCain in the working-class swing states of the Midwest.
"The overall environment right now that we face is one of the worst environments for any Republican in probably 35 years,'' said Mike DuHaime, McCain's political director, in a conference call with reporters last week.
McCain's advisers discussed several ways the electoral map could be divided come November to give the Republicans the 270 votes the Arizona senator needs to win.
However, the McCain campaign's initial plan to win Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire -- swing states that all went for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004 -- has been shelved. Now extra reinforcements have been sent to shore up traditional Republican strongholds, such as Virginia, Colorado and New Mexico, against newly registered and energized Democrats.
"The more terrain you're playing on the better your odds of winning via various channels," said Sara Taylor, the deputy strategist for George W. Bush's 2004 campaign.
"Losing Michigan shrinks McCain's options," she said. "This decision is going to raise the stakes even more in battleground states. It means fewer opportunities and fewer choices for McCain."
Despite the state's history of voting Democratic four times in a row, Michigan was one swing state McCain hoped he could turn from blue to red.
Since effectively winning the Republican nomination in March, McCain has spent 11 days in the state. He has held 18 events, including four town-hall meetings and four fundraisers, and has spent nearly $8 million on ads, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, a company that monitors political advertising.
Looking at the polling data alone, McCain's chances in Michigan seemed no worse than in the battlegrounds of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.