The Associated Press Sets The Chessboard

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From the AP’s Liz Sidoti:

Obama has 14 states firmly in his column and three leaning his way, for a total of 228 electoral votes, while McCain has 17 states in hand with seven angled toward him, for a total of 200 electoral votes, according to an Associated Press analysis of state polls as well as interviews with strategists in both parties. Both candidates are short of the 270 electoral votes needed.

The margin of victory will come from:

_TOSSUPS _ Obama and McCain are in tight races in nine states with a combined 110 electoral votes. Obama is making a strong play for Bush-won Colorado, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia, while McCain competes fiercely in Kerry-won Michigan and New Hampshire. Two other tossups, Democratic-tipping Wisconsin and New Mexico, could soon move to Obama’s column, while GOP-tilting Florida, where Obama is struggling to gain ground despite spending more than $7 million on advertising this summer, may shift to McCain in the coming weeks.

_LEAN OBAMA _ Iowa, where Bush narrowly won four years ago, is arguably the place most likely to switch sides given a strong Democratic tide statewide. Democratic-held Pennsylvania is among McCain’s top pickup targets, and the Republican may compete in Minnesota full-bore if polls tighten following the GOP national convention there next month. Obama’s choice of Sen. Joe Biden as a running mate, with his blue-collar roots, could help the Democrats win those states. Putting Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty on the ticket also could help McCain. Still, all three states could shift to the toss-up category in the homestretch.

_LEAN MCCAIN _ Missouri, a perennial bellwether, could easily tighten and fall out of this category. McCain is up a bit right now. Six other states that for decades have voted Republican _ Alaska, Georgia, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina and North Dakota _ are in Obama’s sights. He’s running ads and planting staff in them to win or, at the very least, force McCain to spend money defending his turf. Obama took a one-week advertising hiatus in most of those states, and if he doesn’t return to the airwaves, count those states as safe for McCain.

Some states will bounce between “lean” to “tossup” as the campaigns adjust their game plans to ensure victory on Nov. 4.