An American comedian once said: "Do you ever get the feeling the only reason we have elections is to find out if the polls were right?" 

This is a look at how the election is shaping up, state-by-state, taking into account the latest polls, historical trends and the candidates' strategies.

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.

As of October 31, national polls and the electoral map show Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, leading John McCain, the Republican candidate. But historically, the last few days of the race see a tightening in the polls.

Both candidates are making a final campaign push ahead of the November 4 poll.

The states that are now too close to call are Ohio, Florida, Missouri, North Carolina, Indiana, and Nevada, as marked on the map above. 

West Virginia is now leaning back towards the Republicans.

While it is a notoriously difficult state to survey, new data shows McCain to be ahead outside the margin of error.

This may be a state where the race is tightening. So while Obama is advertising and has senior West Virginia Democrats stumping for him, the undecideds appear to be breaking for McCain. 

Before Tuesday, media reports said Obama would be making campaign stops in Nevada, Colorado, Missouri, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia.

McCain goes to Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Nevada, Arizona and a few that are still to be decided (probably Indiana, Florida, North Carolina).

Arizona

Electoral votes: 10

Leaning Republican. John McCain is polling barely outside the margin of error of a couple of new polls. If was not McCain's home state, it would likely be very much in play this year, like its neighbours New Mexico and Colorado.

The Obama campaign has announced it will run a feel-good advertisement in Arizona in the final days.  McCain has announced he  will make a campaign stop in his home state on Monday.  It looks bad for a candidate to lose his own state.  

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 Democratic National Convention, and a concerted effort by Senator Obama have contributed to putting the state in play. Early voting in Colorado is at record levels, largely benefiting the Democrats. 

Florida

Electoral votes: 27

Florida remains simply too close to call. It 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. There have been long lines for early voting, usually a good sign for the Democrats.

Georgia

Electoral votes: 15

Leaning Republican. Georgia is a conservative southern state but recent polls show that McCain had only a slender lead, in some cases within the margin of error of the poll.

The Obama campaign has announced it will run advertisments in Georgia in the last days of the campaign.

Indiana

Electoral votes: 11

Another statistical dead heat. Indiana has been a solid Republican 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 advertisements. But new polls show the race is neck-and-neck. Both candidates will find their way to Indiana before Tuesday.

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. And this time, the polls are too close to call.

Montana

Electoral votes: 3

Leaning Republican. The limited polling that has been done shows the race to be tighter than might be expected. Montana voted for Clinton once, but is a typically Republican Mountain West State.

The Republican party has started advertising there to try to keep it in McCain's column but Obama smells victory in Montana.  He has spent $2 million on advertising in the state.

McCain's problem in Montana is Ron Paul.  A recent poll showed six per cent of McCain voters might vote for a third party candidate. Ron Paul has the potential to be a spoiler for McCain here.

Nevada

Electoral votes: 5

Nevada is a Mountain West state and likes to vote for the winners. It has correctly predicted the next resident of the White House in every election since 1980. 

But it is also a statistical tie. It traditionally leans Republican, but right now, Las 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 little, but in an election where every electoral vote counts, New Hampshire matters.

John McCain has been a popular figure in New Hampshire for years, but the latest polls show Obama is leading. McCain will campaign in New Hampshire in the last days, still believing he can win here. 

New Mexico

Electoral votes: 5

Leaning Democratic.  New Mexico is a Mountain West swing state with a large Hispanic population and popular Democratic Governor Bill Richardson.

The latest polls put Obama up by double digits.

North Carolina

Electoral votes: 15

Polls continue to show the race is still very close here. 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. Some polling has indicated the race is tight, but North Dakota is historically a Republican state.

It has voted the same way as its sister state, South Dakota for 80 years. Obama's campaign announced they are going to run advertisements in North Dakota in the final days of the campaign.

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. Polling has been inconsistent, some show Obama ahead, but other say it is either candidates to win.

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. 

Pennsylvania has voted for the Democratic candidate since 1992. McCain will be campaigning here in the final days, believing he can win over just enough votes to win this state. 

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, a slew of advertisments and on-the-ground efforts by the Obama campaign have put it in play. 

Most new polls show Obama's lead outside the margin of error, if only by a bit.  That combined with the huge effort by the Obama campaign move this state very tentatively, from tied to leaning Democratic.

West Virginia

Electoral votes: 5

West Virginia is a largely rural, white state.

Obama is inundating the state with advertising and Biden made a stop there late last week. The state's two popular long-serving Democratic senators and the governor are out on the stump for Obama.

Polls are inconsistent. Some show McCain ahead, others are within the margin of error.  Because it's so rural, West Virginia is a hardff state to poll accurately. But recent surveys show McCain doing better.

Source: Al Jazeera