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Trail Mix 

by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & The New Swing States & r & & r & In 2000 it was Florida. In 2004, Ohio was the difference-maker in the presidential election. So which state will be the tipping point in 2008? Barack Obama or John McCain need 270 of the nation's 538 electoral votes to win, and many states are already solidly in one camp or the other. Idaho's four electoral votes, for example, are considered a lock for McCain, while, for now, Washington's 11 votes are penciled into Obama's column. Here's a look at which states might be under the microscope come the wee hours of Nov. 4

Rocky Mountain High

The Democrats obviously think they can steal Colorado's nine votes -- after all, they scheduled their national convention for Denver later this summer. But the fight will also be for Colorado's neighbors of Nevada and New Mexico (both with five votes). Some even predict McCain will have to defend his own home state of Arizona and its 10 votes.

Scraping Off the Rust

Republicans have their eye on old economy, rust-belt states, especially Michigan and its 17 electoral votes. Pennsylvania (21) and Ohio (20) fit the description, too. Both Al Gore and John Kerry won Michigan, but it's a state John McCain thinks he can steal from Obama -- he is already doing well there in polls. Perhaps it's because the Democrats screwed up the primary there so badly that they have had a slow start, but Obama has visited often since, including when Gore endorsed him.

Back to the Start

The first two states to vote in the primaries -- Iowa (seven votes) and New Hampshire (four votes) -- could make a difference in a tight election. New Hampshire is almost McCain's second home, as it has kept his campaigns alive both in 2000 and this year. And Iowa, which has gone Republican in the past two elections, seems to be tilting Democratic.

Wild Cards

Two states from out of left field may become the talk of election night. In Georgia (15 votes), former Republican Congressman Bob Barr is running for president as a Libertarian, and some speculate he may steal enough votes from McCain to tip the state to Obama. And in the once-reliably Republican Virginia, the tides are changing. If Obama picks Virginia Sen. Jim Webb as his running mate, it may be a sign that he really, really wants Virginia's 13 votes.
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