Strategists also talk up McCain's prospects in Minnesota, Wisconsin and New Hampshire; the latter two are highly competitive, as they were four and eight years ago. But giving up on Michigan and its 17 electoral votes was a major concession; it was the second-largest of the 2004 states McCain hoped to convert and one the Obama camp was most worried about keeping. Even now, the campaign is maintaining its Michigan operation and continuing TV ads.
Strategists for McCain say Obama has fared well in places like North Carolina and Indiana because the Democrat has been running largely unopposed. Once Republicans start investing money and resources, those states "will snap back aggressively in our favor," said Greg Strimple, a McCain advisor, who also expressed confidence that Florida, a perennial target of both parties, will land in the GOP column.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, October 08, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
Nebraska lawmakers: An article in Tuesday's Section A about Barack Obama's and John McCain's efforts to win electoral votes in key states said that Nebraska's five members of Congress were all Republicans. Sen. Ben Nelson is a Democrat.
But any money spent on states McCain should take for granted is money he cannot spend on states he hopes to win from Obama. While McCain is getting a financial boost from the richly funded Republican National Committee, his own campaign spending is capped at $84 million. Obama, who chose not to accept federal financing, can raise and spend unlimited sums.
"If you look at the radio, who's playing offense and who's playing defense, McCain's playing offense in only four states," said David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager. "We're playing offense in 11 or 12 states, including states McCain never thought he'd have to defend."
With so many contests so close, there are several plausible outcomes that could yield a 269-269 electoral college tie, which would pitch the election into the House of Representatives. "It's never happened," said the University of Denver's Hardaway, who said the chances are extremely unlikely. "But that's not to say it couldn't."
Given that, Obama's effort to break off an electoral vote in Nebraska and McCain's attempt to win one in Maine are not the fliers they might seem.
On an evening last week, a half-dozen Obama volunteers gathered in a church parking lot to canvass a working-class neighborhood on Omaha's north side. Weeds grew up through cracks in the sidewalk. Many of the homes -- paint peeling, porches buckling -- had seen better times, as, apparently, have many of those inside.
Cindy Hare, 47, one of the few to answer the door, said she had had it with Bush, the Republican Party and an economy "that's gone straight to hell."
The registered independent plans to vote for Obama and figures many of her neighbors will too, even if some are wary of electing a black president. "People want a change," Hare said as her three dogs barked in the background. "So let's do it in a big way."
Times staff writer Peter Nicholas contributed to this report.