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Originally published Friday, October 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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With little time left, McCain narrows focus to few states

Confronting an increasingly bleak electoral map, top aides to Sen. John McCain said Thursday they were searching for a "narrow victory scenario"...

The New York Times

Confronting an increasingly bleak electoral map, top aides to Sen. John McCain said Thursday they were searching for a "narrow victory scenario" and would focus on a dwindling number of states, using last-minute mailings, telephone calls and television advertisements to try to tear away support from Sen. Barack Obama.

Obama's advisers said they would use the 19 days left in the campaign to focus on capturing states President Bush won in 2004. Obama is going to Virginia, Missouri and North Carolina over the next three days and spending two days in Florida next week.

In a clear sign of the differing fortunes of the two candidates, advisers to Obama said he was escalating his effort in West Virginia — a state Bush won by 13 points in 2004 — with a surge in advertising spending and a campaign swing in coming days by Obama or his running mate, Sen. Joseph Biden.

"West Virginia is real," campaign manager David Plouffe said. "We have been watching it for a long time."

By contrast, McCain is spending the next three days in states Bush won in 2004, and which earlier this year Republicans had considered relatively safe. He will visit Florida today, then North Carolina, Virginia and Ohio.

Republicans said their hopes of capturing any state the Democrats won in 2004 appeared to be dwindling, though they held out hope for Pennsylvania, where McCain campaigned Thursday but where he has slipped far behind in some polls.

By every indication, Obama enters the post-debate period in a significantly stronger position than McCain, with broader support in polls, more options for an electoral victory and voters increasingly fixated on the economy.

Without a shift of voters back toward McCain, Republican candidates and party leaders may be forced to confront the question of whether they should move more money to targeted congressional races to hold down anticipated losses in the House or Senate, or continue to try to hold the line for McCain in the GOP battlegrounds.

Many Republicans were urging the campaign to end efforts to win back the four Democratic states where McCain is still competing but is behind in polls — Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Wisconsin — and put its resources into holding states Bush won in 2004.

But McCain's advisers made clear their candidate would continue to campaign aggressively in those states, even as they acknowledged that their options were limited.

"The scenario for winning for us is a narrow-victory scenario," top adviser Steve Schmidt said. "The fact that we're in the race at all — within striking distance with a 5 percent right track — is a miracle. Because the environment is so bad and the head wind is so strong."

Plouffe said he viewed Virginia and Colorado as the two states that Obama had the best chance of pulling from the Republican column.

Obama outspent McCain on TV by 4-to-1 nationally last week, displaying a financial advantage McCain's advisers described as smothering.

Still, the Republican National Committee and McCain by all appearances have retained a significant amount of money to pay for a late surge of television ads, get-out-the-vote calls and mailings.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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