At the beginning of this campaign, Barack Obama promised Democrats a 50-state strategy.  Three months later, Obama’s campaign map has shrunk considerably.  Instead of flipping the South and attacking in the interior West, Team Obama has gone back to the traditional focus on perennial battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio:

A few months ago, the rhetoric coming out of the Obama camp was that the Democratic presidential nominee’s victory could be sweeping, coming from flipping deep Republican states in the West or the South. But after the Democratic convention, Sen. Obama made a beeline for the traditional swing state he may need most, Pennsylvania, before quickly moving on to Ohio and Michigan.

Winning two of these three states isn’t only key to Sen. Obama’s strategy, but also critical for his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain. “I think that what you’re going to see settling in is that the race is going to be very close in most of the battleground states, which is really what matters,” Sen. Obama told reporters Tuesday.

Tightening voter polls, a more competitive money race than originally envisioned and a McCain campaign invigorated by his unconventional vice-presidential pick are prompting a return to the old political map — and a grudging concession by some Obama campaign operatives that certain states once deemed winnable may be more of a long shot than once thought.

For Sen. Obama, this has prompted a change in focus: A campaign that visited nine states in mid-August has focused almost exclusively on three this month. Since closing out the convention, Sen. Obama will have held 21 campaign events through Tuesday, 18 of them in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. All three states went to either George W. Bush or John Kerry in 2004 by a margin of less than 4% — and were won in relative squeakers in 2000.

The reason for this became more obvious after the latest round of polling in North Carolina.  Obama had identified this as one state in which he expected to compete, and it was one of the few bright spots for Obama in the later primaries.  However, he now trails there by 20 points, joining Georgia and Florida as states that have moved out of his orbit.  Despite holding his convention in Denver, Colorado has begun shifting away from Obama as well.

Also, money troubles have apparently arisen within Obama’s campaign.  The 50-state strategy depended on an almost unlimited supply of money, but now the campaign has begun sending signals that they have not generated the kind of contributions necessary to pay for the fundraising costs involved and have Obama keep pace with McCain and the RNC. In fact, there’s another data point for this issue, involving Girl Scouts in Naperville:

Walsh said she called both campaigns and asked for free trinkets she could give the 7-year-olds to help them learn. If they did well, she explained, each Scout would earn her “Ms. President” patch. The tchotchkes would provide added incentive.

A representative for John McCain responded immediately, sending Walsh a box filled with stickers and signs. The Barack Obama camp wasn’t quite so generous, Walsh said. …

Walsh said the woman at Obama’s headquarters put her on hold. After a few minutes, she returned with the same answer. The woman told her that she sympathized, but the Obama campaign needs every penny it can get, Walsh said.

“She said, ‘We’re up against the machine and we just can’t hand anything out for free,’ ” Walsh said. “She was very nice . . . but I wasn’t getting anything.”

They were so hard up that they couldn’t send a box of campaign buttons or bumper stickers out to the Girl Scouts?  The Obama campaign raised almost $400 million dollars this year!  McCain has raised less than half of that, and still managed to scrounge up some memorabilia for the kids.  If Team Obama can’t manage what Team McCain can manage on twice the amount of money, doesn’t that say something about executive ability and the competence of the Obama team?

I suspect we will barely see Obama traveling outside of these battleground states for the next eight weeks, except for fundraisers to infuse desperately-needed cash into his machine.  After the last two weeks of him flailing to respond to the selection of Palin as McCain’s running mate, he’ll need all the help he can get.