WASHINGTON — Barack Obama has pulled ahead in enough states to win the 270 electoral votes he needs to gain the White House _ and with states to spare _ according to an Associated Press analysis that shows he is now moving beyond typical Democratic territory to challenge John McCain on historically GOP turf.
Even if McCain sweeps the six states that are too close to call, he still seemingly won't have enough votes to prevail, according to the analysis, which is based on polls, the candidates' TV spending patterns and interviews with Democratic and Republican strategists. McCain does have a path to victory but it's a steep climb: He needs a sudden shift in voter sentiment that gives him all six toss-up states plus one or two others that now lean toward Obama.
Obama has 23 states and the District of Columbia, offering 286 votes, in his column or leaning his way, while Republican McCain has 21 states with 163 votes. A half dozen offering 89 votes _ Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Nevada and Ohio _ remain up for grabs. President Bush won all six in 2004, and they are where the race is primarily being contested in the homestretch.
Though sounding confident, Obama is still campaigning hard. "Don't believe for a second this election is over," he tells backers. "We have to work like our future depends on it in this last week, because it does."
The underdog McCain is pressing supporters to fight on: "Nothing is inevitable here. We never give up. And we never quit."
Less than a week before Election Day, the AP analysis isn't meant to be predictive but rather provides a late snapshot of a race that's been volatile all year.
It's still possible McCain can pull off an upset. Some public and private polling shows the race tightening nationally. And, roughly one fourth of voters in a recent AP-GfK poll were undecided or said they still could change their minds. It's also still unclear how racial feelings will affect the results in voting that could give the country its first black president.
Last month, in a similar analysis, Obama had an edge over McCain but hadn't laid claim to enough states to cross the 270-vote threshold.
Since then, the economic crisis has reshaped the race, and the public's call for change has grown louder. Obama has strengthened his grip in the contest by using his significant financial advantage to lock up most states that Democrat John Kerry won four years ago, even as he makes inroads into traditionally GOP turf that McCain cannot afford to lose.
Obama now has several possible routes to victory, while McCain is scrambling to defend states where he shouldn't even have to campaign in the final days.
In new AP-GfK battleground polling, Obama has a solid lead in typically Republican Colorado, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia. He and McCain are even in two other usually GOP states: Florida and North Carolina. Obama also is comfortably ahead in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. The series of polls showed Obama is winning among early voters, is favored on most issues, benefits from the country's sour mood and is widely viewed as the likely victor by voters in these states.
McCain's senior advisers acknowledge his steep hurdles and no-room-for-error strategy. However, they insist that internal polling shows the race getting closer. They hope the gains trickle down to competitive Bush-won states in the coming days and help the Arizona senator eke out a victory in Kerry-won Pennsylvania. McCain is keeping up his attacks against Obama as a tax-and-spend liberal; his strategists contend that's moving poll numbers.
"This campaign is functionally tied across the battleground states with our numbers improving sharply," said Bill McInturff, McCain's lead pollster in a strategy memo. "All signs say we are headed to an election that may easily be too close to call by next Tuesday."
Democrats privately acknowledge the race is narrowing, though they say they aren't concerned. Obama's top aides hope not just for a win but a sweeping victory that would reshapes the political landscape.
"Strategically we tried to have as wide of a map as possible," to have many routes to reaching the magic number of 270 on Election Day, David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager, told reporters this week. "We think we've been able to create that dynamic and have a lot of competitive states in play."
Indeed, Obama has used his financial heft and organizational prowess, a remnant of the long Democratic primary that was fought out in every corner of the nation, to compete in states the party has ignored in previous elections because of their histories of voting Republican. McCain has lagged in both money and manpower.
As a result, the GOP's hold on states usually considered safe has shrunk, and the election's final week is being played out largely in states that Bush won and that are toss-ups in a political climate that greatly favors Democrats.
They include the traditional GOP bastions of Indiana and North Carolina, as well as perennial battlegrounds of Missouri and Nevada. Also on the list are the crown jewels of Florida and Ohio, which were crucial in deciding the last two presidential elections. McCain could sweep all six and still lose the White House.
Obama has every state that Kerry won four years ago seemingly in the bag or leaning his way, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and New Hampshire _ four states with 41 votes that McCain and his allies aggressively fought for before pulling back this month when they became out of reach. McCain still hopes to win one of Maine's electoral votes, which are allotted by congressional district.
Among Kerry's states from 2004, only Pennsylvania, which hasn't voted for a Republican since 1988, remains realistically in McCain's sights. Public polls show Obama leading by double-digits, though McCain aides say it's much closer. McCain hopes that working-class white voters who haven't fully warmed to Obama will vote Republican. Some aides say a Pennsylvania victory, with 21 votes, could be what allows McCain to win the White House, provided he can thwart Obama in Bush-held states.
Over the past month, Obama has strengthened his standing in four of those offering a combined 34 votes.
He has comfortable leads in Iowa and New Mexico polls. Long considered toss-ups, Colorado and Virginia have started tilting more toward Obama. McCain is still advertising heavily in the four and has visited all in recent days. His advisers say their polling shows the race tighter than it seems.
West Virginia and Montana both emerged as GOP trouble spots after Obama started advertising in them; the Republican National Committee was forced to go on the air this week to defend them.
Earlier in the year, Obama had put millions of dollars into Georgia and North Dakota only to pull out when McCain ended up maintaining an edge. But, as the race closes, there are indications Obama could win them, too. Obama also could pick up a single vote in Nebraska, which awards votes based on congressional districts.
There are even signs that the race in McCain's home state of Arizona _ which would be a battleground if he didn't live there _ is narrowing. Public polls show McCain with a single-digit lead, even though Obama hasn't targeted the state.