Just hours after published reports yesterday that John McCain’s presidential campaign was dramatically scaling down its operations in Michigan, the state Republican chairman spelled out to me the unexpected decision that has left Republicans there speechless.
“The reports you’re getting are true,” State Chairman Saul Anuzis told me, recalling how at 11:00 a.m. on October 2nd he had received a call from Republican National Committee Regional Political Director Chris McNulty informing him the McCain camp would be “reallocating resources” to Wisconsin and Ohio.
Although survey research had reportedly showed the Republican ticket had excellent chances in both states, the latest polling from Michigan showed that state and its 17 electoral votes were definitely in play; a recent AllState/National Journal poll showed Barack Obama leading McCain by a margin of 47% to 39% statewide, and an NBC News poll showed Obama with a slight edge (46% to 45%) over McCain.
Sources told me that Jennifer Hallowell, the McCain campaign’s field operative in Michigan, would in all likelihood be reassigned elsewhere. Referring to the state party organization that he heads, Anuzis emphasized,”We had no input on this.”
Does this latest and unanticipated move mean that the Republican Party is writing off Michigan and its electoral votes? No way, Anuzis and other GOP leaders shot back. The party chairman said that “[w]e’ll adjust accordingly. We’re redouble our traditional efforts on getting out the vote and helping McCain as well as Tim Walberg and Joe Knollenberg [the two Republican House Members in the state considered most vulnerable to Democratic opponents].” As if to underscore his promise, Anuzis held a conference call with his county and district chairmen throughout the state.
Anuzis also said that “it would be very difficult to put the Electoral College map together for a [McCain win] without Michigan. But we’re not giving up.”
Other observers were surprised at this decision. They cited the perceived influence of Chuck Yob, the state’s former GOP national committeeman and leader of the McCain team in Michigan. When I reached Yob (who was on his way back from an event with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger), he told me: “I got a call from [McCain campaign manager] Rick Davis. He said there were five to six states they were looking at, that they had a better shot in some than others. I argued, I e-mailed him to say this was not the right course. But I knew his mind was made up. Look, I don’t agree with this, but I support it. That’s because I want John McCain to be President and the national campaign has to make hard decisions sometimes, emphasizing some states over others.
“But we’re not going to give up here. We’ll get the message out in Michigan that Barack Obama is an inexperienced fraud and John McCain will be a great President.”
Any conversation with Yob or Anuzis emphasizes the fact that the two have long been at dagger’s point in party matters and that their relationship has sometimes been akin to that between Russian Prime Minister Putin and Georgian President Saadkashvili. But Yob insisted that “we put our differences away for this campaign. We want to win Michigan and win control of the state House of Representatives. Saul and I aren’t kissing cousins, but we’re getting along OK.”
Another Republican power in Michigan, former National Committeeman Peter Secchia, was less than pleased with the decision. The onetime U.S. Ambassador to Italy told me: “One of the problems with campaigns run from Washington is that the people in Washington think they are smarter than the other people, the folks in the states. They make decisions without consulting them. And sometimes they don’t know what they are doing. And they blow it!”