10/16/2012 02:48 pm ET Updated Dec 16, 2012

It's the (Electoral College) Math, Stupid

Despite the considerable doom and gloom from Democratic quarters and the tightening poll numbers in the wake of the first presidential debate, it is important to remember that President Obama has a distinct advantage where it counts most -- in the Electoral College. While it may seem wonky to dig into electoral votes when it's more fun to listen to the pundits opine on the daily tracking polls, the electoral votes are what really count. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it's the math, stupid. (Thanks to Real Clear Politics interactive Electoral College map, it's a pretty easy to do the math).

As we all know, the large majority of electoral votes (398 in 39 states) are already in the safe column for one or the other of the candidates. In the remaining eleven states, there are roughly 140 up for grabs. However, many of those states have fewer electors, which leaves the big three battleground states as the most important prizes. Those are, of course, Florida, Ohio and Virginia.

By most calculations, if Obama wins any one of these three states -- each of which he won by between three and six points in 2008, he will likely to be re-elected. Either Florida or Ohio would put him over the top in terms of pure numbers, and a victory in Virginia would indicate that independents are voting for him and he would likely pick up a win in one or more of the smaller battleground states - thus giving him a victory.

But what if Obama lost all three major battleground states -- Virginia, Florida and Ohio? Would that mean certain defeat? Not necessarily. Wins in New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada -- all of which gave Obama margins of nine percentage points or more in 2008 -- would still clinch a victory. The post-debate polls in Colorado and Nevada have Obama and Romney virtually tied, while Obama is ahead by three points in Iowa and four points in New Hampshire.

States like Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire and Iowa have traditionally been evenly divided between the parties, while changing demographics in Virginia, Colorado and Nevada have meant wide departures from historic patterns that favored Republicans. What this all comes down to is not the outcome of the debates or expensive ad campaigns. What matters above all is the turnout in the battleground states. If the Obama campaign can deliver the ground game and turn in victories in at least one of the three major states -- or wins in the smaller swing states -- then the numbers will add up to a victory. Despite all the talk-show pontificating, it's still all about the math.