The Democrats are destined to win liberal states California and New York, while the Republicans appear to have a stranglehold on Texas and the Deep South. However, with each candidate striving to reach the magical number of 270 Electoral College votes needed to take office — go here for a description of the U.S. voting system — there are a handful of crucial swing states you may’ve noticed Barack Obama and John McCain scurrying through in the campaign’s dying days.

Crikey looks at the states in the balance:

Ohio (worth 20 Electoral College votes):

The famed Ohio. This Midwestern swing state is rarely discussed with as much intensity as it is during a U.S. election. No presidential nominee has taken office without carrying Ohio since John F. Kennedy in 1960. No Republican nominee has ever become president without winning Ohio. “Ohio is where Democratic dreams died four years ago,” reports Walter Shapiro in Salon, “as John Kerry came up 120,000 votes short of winning the state’s 20 electoral votes and the White House.” But that could be all set to change this time round — the latest polls see Obama leading McCain by as many as nine percentage points.

Florida (27):

The Obama campaign has dedicated a lot of energy to Florida in the hope they will reverse the state’s Republican voting tendencies. “Florida typifies the all-or-nothing problem McCain now faces,” according to The Arizona Republic,” … This year, Democrats have 650,000 more registered voters in Florida than Republicans, a margin nearly double what they had in 2000 and 2004. And Blacks in the conservative northern part of the state may vote in more sizable numbers.”

Florida, home to many a suntanned Jewish grandparent (see The Great Schlep) has voted for a Democrat only once since 1980 and, along with the South, has been regarded as an electoral counterbalance to Democratic dominance in California and the Northeast. Polls suggest Obama will shade McCain, but the state has only been carried by a Democrat twice in the past forty years; Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1996. The infamous scandals and lawsuits of 2000 will go down in U.S. election history, but all will be hoping the result won’t be hanging on hanging chads.

Pennsylvania (21):

McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis is calling Pennsylvania the “most important state to watch right now.” While this working-class state has traditionally swung between the blue and red sides of U.S. politics, it has voted for the past four Democratic nominees and all polls suggest this trend will continue. The Keystone State has a huge manufacturing and agriculture sector and it appears they will rally behind Obama’s call for change. However, McCain and Palin have been campaigning heavily there and haven’t flown the white flag just yet. In fact, Joe Biden is winging his way to the rust belt right now, TPM Election Central say his stop in Pennsylvania signifies “…that the Obama campaign is taking McCain-Palin’s big push in the state somewhat seriously, contrary to some conjecture.”

North Carolina (15):

This south-eastern seaboard state has voted Republican in all-but one of the past ten U.S. presidential elections — George W. Bush beat John Kerry by 12% in 2004 — but recent polls predict a Democrat victory. Like Pennsylvania, North Carolina has a large blue-collar population that has felt the ill-effects of the global financial crisis, and the Illinois senator will be hoping come November 4 they will heed his call for change. According to USA Today, “nearly 2.6 million people — or more than 40% of registered voters — have already cast a ballot in North Carolina, with turnout heavy among blacks and registered Democrats in a trend that could favor Barack Obama.”

Virginia (13):

The Democrats have not won Virginia since Lyndon Johnson carried it in 1964. An incredulous Dahlia Lithwick in Slate asks, “How is it possible that the heart of the Confederacy, the birthplace of American slavery, and a state that hasn’t picked a Democrat for president since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, is suddenly very much in play?”  Polls suggest Virginians may hand Senator Obama the Democrats’ first victory there since LBJ romped home in the biggest landslide in US presidential election history. Part of the reason why Obama actually has a shot this time can be attributed to the fact that he’s “…treated Virginia to extra-special love-bombing for months now. He has visited the state at least 10 times since the spring (including an appearance in Virginia Beach on Thursday), whereas McCain has stopped by only three times,” says Slate.

Colorado (9):

This Rocky Mountain state has been carried by the Republicans in nine out of the last ten elections and in all-but three contests since World War Two. However, just as it is in many other traditionally red states, the tide is turning against Senator McCain. The latest Denver Post poll has Obama leading McCain by five percentage points. Imaeyan Ibanga of ABC News reports on Obama’s push into Colorado , “If you want further proof that it’s a battleground state, just watch television for 10 minutes, as residents have been inundated with political ads, especially in the race’s closing days. That’s in part because of a seismic shift in Colorado. Though President Bush won the state twice, now there’s some Bush backlash. That combined with an influx of new residents may make it more favorable this year for Democrats.”

Missouri (11):

A true swing state, Missourians just can’t make up their minds (or they just have the knack of backing the winner). They voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, Clinton in 1992 and 1996 and Bush Snr. and Reagan before that. Just like Ohio, whichever candidate has won this Midwestern state in the last ten elections has gone on to win the presidency. This year’s contest may prove the exception to the rule. While Obama is clawing back in the polls, McCain has a narrow lead and looks set to carry the state, but David Lieb of the St Louis’ Belleville News Democrat writes it is too close to call, “Presidential tracking polls rank Missouri as the closest state in the nation. That means Missouri could be in the glare of the spotlight if the national electoral vote is close. If it’s not, the presidential winner could be celebrating long before the outcome in Missouri is known.”

Nevada (5):

While it is worth a relatively small number of Electoral College votes, John McCain cannot afford to lose any of the states won by President Bush in 2004. The Silver State has been carried by the Republicans in eight of the last ten elections, with Bill Clinton the only Democrat to sway Nevadans. Recently the state’s population has grown exponentially and consequently traditional demographics and voting intentions are harder to nail down. However, polls suggest Obama is shading McCain. “The competitiveness of the race here in Nevada was on clear display Saturday,” reported J. Patrick Coolican and Michael Mishak of the Las Vegas Sun. “Even as Obama was making his 20th appearance in Nevada and second in just one week, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani rallied a few hundred Republican volunteers at McCain’s Henderson headquarters. The race has been a dead heat for months, but recent polls have shown Obama pulling slightly ahead here. His campaign’s intense focus on early voting seems to have paid off. At the close of early voting Friday, Democrats had a 90,000-voter advantage in Clark and Washoe counties, where 87 percent of voters live.”

Indiana (11):

In 2004 George W. Bush won this north-eastern state in a landslide, by 21 percentage points. How times have changed. His unpopular presidency appears to have turned Hoosiers — apparently that’s what you call people from Indiana — against the Republicans, and McCain is facing an uphill battle to retain this state for his party. The latest American Research Group poll shows the candidates tied, and it’s a result that has astounded The Nation’s Ari Berman, “(It’s) absolutely remarkable for a state that hasn’t gone Democratic since 1964 and only voted for a Democratic presidential candidate three times in the 20th century,” he continues, “the economic downturn has given Obama an opportunity to make inroads in a place national Democrats normally bypass.”

Peter Fray

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