As of October 21, national polls and the electoral map show Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, with a widening lead over John McCain, his Republican rival.

Playing to win

Barack Obama
Obama needs to hold all the states John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, won plus win one with lots of electoral votes, like Ohio or a couple of states with more modest electoral votes, such as Virginia and Colorado.

John McCain
McCain needs to hold almost all the states Bush won in 2004.  If he loses a smaller state like Iowa to Obama, McCain can still win if the south and mountain west stay in the Red column.

But it is still a picture of a moving race as the election goes down the final stretch.

The big change is North Dakota: Obama pulled his resources out, but a couple of new polls show the race to be tighter than expected. 

McCain has been in the battleground states of Missouri, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New Hampshire.

Obama continues his "Red State" tour in those states traditionally viewed as Republican, visiting North Carolina, Florida, and Indiana. 

Right now there are eight that are almost tied statistically: Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana, Missouri, Florida, Virginia, West Virginia, and Nevada. 

Early voting began in a number of states this week. There were long lines at the polls in Florida, nearly 400,000 have already voted in North Carolina, and half of all votes in Nevada are expected to be cast early.

Colorado

Electoral votes: 9

Leaning Democratic. Colorado is a mountain west state that has been solidly Republican for years, but this time, the Democrats believe they can put it in the blue column. 

Changing voter demographics, the Democrat's National Convention in Denver, and a concerted effort by Obama have contributed to putting the state in play.

Florida

Electoral votes: 27

It is a toss-up. Florida is a large, diverse state, with large elderly, Jewish, and Hispanic populations. 

Both candidates are pouring staff and resources into voter rich areas. Florida won the presidency for George Bush in 2000.

Indiana

Electoral votes: 11

Another toss-up. It is been a solid red state for 40 years but Obama stands a chance of winning it. 

Indiana borders Obama's home state of Illinois and is being inundated with ads.

Missouri

Electoral votes: 11

Missouri is an important bellwether state.  It has voted for the winning candidate in every election for 100 years, except one. 

Nevada

Electoral votes: 5

Nevada is a mountain west state and likes to vote for the winners. It has correctly predicted the winner of the White House since 1980. 

But it is also a toss-up. It leans Republican, but right now, Vegas gambling houses are giving Obama an enormous advantage in the race. 

One gambling website is giving McCain 4 to 1 odds while Obama is 1-7. 

New Hampshire

Electoral votes: 4

Leaning Democratic.  It is a small state, but in an election where every electoral vote counts, New Hampshire matters.

McCain has been a popular figure in New Hampshire for years, but the latest polls show Obama is leading for the first time.

New Mexico

Electoral votes: 5

Leaning Democratic.  New Mexico is a swing state with a large Hispanic population and popular Democratic governor, Bill Richardson.

But it is still conservative, and both candidates think they can win. 

North Carolina

Electoral votes: 15

New polls show the race is still very close. Obama is pouring in resources to try to pull out a win in this southern Republican state. 

Around 250,000 new Democrats have registered to vote since the beginning of the year, compared to 50,000 new Republicans.

A poll taken over the summer found that native North Carolinians support McCain by eight points, while migrants to the state support Obama by about five points. 

North Carolina has not voted for a Democrat since 1976.

North Dakota

Electoral votes: 3

Leaning Republican. A couple of new polls put the race as very tight, but North Dakota is a historically Republican state and Obama pulled his resources out a few weeks ago.

Ohio

Electoral votes: 20

Ohio is big, economically depressed, and a true indicator of the national mood. 

No Republican has won the White House without Ohio. Obama is up in some polls, but both candidates are fighting hard.

Pennsylvania

Electoral votes: 21

Leaning Democratic. Pennsylvania is older and whiter than most states and has a large manufacturing base, hit hard by the economic turbulence. 

McCain continues to campaign in Pennsylvania, even though polls show Obama holds a slight lead. 

Pennsylvania has voted for the Democratic candidate since 1992.

Virginia

Electoral votes: 13

Virginia is Obama's best chance to break the Republican hold on the south.

The state has voted for the Republican ticket since 1968, but changing demographics, a popular Democratic governor, and a slew of ads by the Obama campaign have put it in play. 

New polls are giving a mixed message on whether the state is leaning to Obama or still a toss-up.

West Virginia

Electoral votes: 5

The polls are tightening in this largely rural, white state. Obama is now inundating the state with advertising and may visit there soon.

Source: Al Jazeera