Updated: 1:57 p.m. ET
Six days out from the presidential election and with recent polls showing a slim lead for President Obama in Ohio, the Romney campaign is touting Michigan as a possible state of play, adding the Wolverine State to a growing list of Democratic-leaning territories where Republicans insist Romney might be able to make a last-minute play for victory.
On Tuesday, after the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future announced a $2.2 million ad blitz in the state, a new poll from Detroit News/WDIV showed the president's advantage winnowing to just 2.7 points over his rival. On Wednesday, the Obama campaign confirmed it would be going on the air with ads in the state.
Now, with its seemingly narrowing polls and a recent infusion of GOP super PAC cash, Michigan joins Minnesota and Pennsylvania as three blue-leaning states where the Romney campaign claims it can cut into the president's lead and expand the Republican's path to 270.
"While the race is breaking to the advantage of Governor Romney, the Obama campaign continues with their desperate and flailing spin in an attempt to explain why suddenly states that were never considered in play are up for grabs," said Romney campaign political director Rich Beeson, in a statement to CBS. "President Obama is playing defense in states that were once considered safely in his column. If the other side was on the move, they would be expanding into states that John McCain won in 2008; instead, they're fighting to maintain turf in traditionally Democratic states."
The extent to which these states are truly up for grabs, however, is unclear: Unlike in battleground states, which have been polled ad nauseum for months, there's a relative dearth of reliable data from which to pull in many of these less competitive states. Democrats, meanwhile, argue Republicans are trying to build "fauxmentum" around Romney's campaign by making a play in states where there's no legitimate prospect of pulling out a win.
"The Romney campaign has found itself trapped in a tremendously narrow and improbable path," said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina in a conference call this morning. "Its desperation is palpable."
Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod, who earlier today said he was so confident Obama would win the Minnesota-Pennsylvania-Michigan triumvirate that he'd shave off his moustache in the case of a loss, argued on the same call that pro-Romney super PACs, which have raised millions of dollars on behalf of the Republican nominee, are throwing money into alternate states to compensate for a possible loss in Ohio.
"I think there's a growing recognition on the other side that Ohio is fading away," said Axelrod. "You see them and their allies in the super PACs heading into three states that they're simply not going to win... As some of you may have seen, I am so confident of that that I put my moustache on the line. And I'm very confident that I'll still have this mustache on November 7th."
"Axe's moustache is safe," added Messina.
Still, the Obama campaign has responded to the Romney camp's efforts by going up with ads in all three states, signaling some doubt about the campaign's ability to withstand a last-minute Romney offensive.
"We basically have had a theory of throughout that we would not cede any states. So if they go in with some force late in this camp in any of these additional states, including Michigan, that we would follow," Axelrod said. "We had a contingency fund set aside for just this purpose."
Ultimately, bluffing about a candidate's is pretty par for the course at this stage in the campaign: In 2008, Mr. Obama went up with ads in Arizona -- his rival's reliably red home state -- before losing the state just days later, and in 2004, former Vice President Dick Cheney attended a last-minute campaign rally in the solidly Democratic Hawaii in another display of campaign bluster. (Democratic candidate John Kerry walked away with an 8.7 percent victory in the state a few days later.)
The best indicator as to which side's bluffing will likely be best evidenced by where the candidates spend their time in the next six days. If Romney heads to Pennsylvania, Minnesota or his home state of Michigan, it's likely the Romney campaign thinks they've got a legitimate shot there - or that they believe the state is crucial in the path to 270. If Mr. Obama heads that way, it's likely his campaign believes the same thing.
At this point, however, even some conservative pundits believe Romney's latest strategy spells trouble for his campaign: In an op-ed on Politico, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough expressed a pessimistic perspective on Romney's latest play.
"With President Obama maintaining his five-point lead in Ohio in today's poll, Romney must run the table on the six remaining swing states or expand the electoral map. Considering how rough the internals look in this morning's Ohio survey, Boston must know that winning the White House now depends on their candidate stealing Michigan, Minnesota or Pennsylvania out of the Obama column next Tuesday," Scarborough wrote. "Their play in those three Midwest states now appear to be more out of weakness than strength."
The Romney campaign declined to say whether or not the candidate plans to make stops in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, or Michigan. President Obama currently has no announced stops in any of those states.