Democrat Michael Dukakis is fighting to turn the tide in his favor in a pair of important industrial states but is swimming in the face of increasing signs that Republican George Bush is putting the presidential race out of reach.

The Massachusetts governor, who reportedly has decided to focus his flagging campaign on 18 states and the District of Columbia, set up an ambitious agenda Tuesday in one of those industrial prizes, Michigan, after stumping frenetically Monday through the other, Ohio.The multistop schedule reflected the state of Dukakis's campaign - trailing and scrapping hard to get back into the race with only three weeks left until Election Day. Bush appears to hold a lead in both Ohio and Michigan.

Even as the Democrat moved to put the best face on recent events, however, he was hit with an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll Monday giving his opponent a startling 17-point edge - the vice president supported by 55 percent of those surveyed, to 38 percent for Dukakis, the largest Bush lead of any major poll.

Conducted Friday through Sunday, it represents the first comprehensive survey since Thursday's second and final debate between the nominees in Los Angeles, which generally was seen as a victory for Bush. The poll's authors cautioned, however, that the race could be closer with low voter turnout; they questioned 1,378 likely voters and wound up with an error margin of 3 percentage points.

Bush played down the news Monday, telling a rally at DuPage College in Glen Ellyn, Ill., "I am running as if I were 10 points behind. We are not going to let up and we need to capitalize on our strength."

Dukakis did his best to dismiss the results, saying, "I can only tell you that there are other polls that say very different things about where we are and where the race is. It's very tight, and it's a real horse race."

The three-term governor added with some frustration, however, "This business of polls is really having a terrible effect. . . . Now we've got a new set of numbers that has absolutely no relationship to anything we have or other people have (and yet) you spend two or three days responding to questions."