Ceding Michigan an 'obvious' choice, McCain campaign says

ST. LOUIS -- Republican John McCain's presidential campaign all but conceded vote-rich Michigan to Democrat Barack Obama on Thursday, diverting ad money and candidate trips from a state it once deemed a top target.

Michigan, with 17 electoral votes, is a vital Midwestern battleground that traditionally tests a presidential candidate's ability to draw key blocs such as working-class voters. Obama leads McCain in Michigan polls by an average of 7 percentage points, according to recent polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.com.

"It's been the worst state of all the states in play," said McCain senior adviser Greg Strimple. "It's an obvious one … to come off the list."

Strimple said McCain still aims to win in Democratic-leaning states such as Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and would "re-engage" if the situation improves.

Michigan-based political analysts said McCain always faced a hard sell in their home state, which has voted for the Democratic nominee in four straight presidential elections. They also questioned why the McCain campaign was so open about pulling out of such a big state so early, saying the news could dampen GOP enthusiasm elsewhere.

"It's probably the right thing for McCain to do," said pollster Ed Sarpolus, "but it sends the wrong signal to his troops."

McCain's decision to pull out of Michigan appears unprecedented. "I have never seen this in a presidential election at any time, in the last 50 years," said Bill Ballenger, editor of the newsletter Inside Michigan Politics.

He questioned whether McCain has any chance left in state where he would have no ads and virtually no staff. "He's got two chances," Ballenger said. "Slim and none."

Obama's campaign reacted cautiously to the McCain decision, which came just hours before the vice presidential debate between Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Sarah Palin.

"I don't understand this," said Obama senior strategist David Axelrod. "We're not going to take anything for granted in Michigan."

McCain has made seven trips to Michigan, as his campaign hoped that voters there would take out their economic frustrations on the state's Democratic leadership. The day after McCain formally accepted the GOP nomination on Sept. 4, he and Palin drew a crowd of more than 7,000 in a Detroit suburb.

McCain is constrained, in part, by his decision to accept $84.1 million in taxpayer funds for the general election. But he has been helped by the Republican Nation