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Page last updated at 09:57 GMT, Monday, 16 June 2008 10:57 UK

Key US states to watch

As the two main candidates for the US presidency - John McCain and Barack Obama - kick off their campaigns in earnest, pollster John Zogby takes a look at the key battlegrounds.

Map of key battleground states

As in the previous two presidential elections, there are about a dozen states that could swing in 2008.

For the time being, the general election between Barack Obama and John McCain looks to be very close, although there is the potential for a last-minute landslide similar to the pattern that emerged in 1980 when Ronald Reagan pulled away from a tie to wallop Jimmy Carter.

One of the many things that makes this election so intriguing is that perhaps the old paradigm of Red States (those that voted for George W Bush) and Blue States (Al Gore or John Kerry states) may be less relevant.

Indeed, some states that were comfortably in one column or the other now seem to be in transition demographically and politically.

Let's take a look...

New Hampshire voted for Bush in 2000 and Kerry in 2004. On one hand, it is trending Democrat and has a growing southern half that is very much a Boston suburb, and therefore liberal. On the other hand, New Hampshire voters adore John McCain, so the state is very much in play.

Pennsylvania has squeaked by as a Blue (Democratic) state in the last two elections. But this is a place where the issue of race among the "white working class" (WEMC - white, ethnic, male, Catholic) may hurt Obama. He should do well in the urbanised east and lose badly in the rural centre of the state. So the old steel and mining west will be the region to watch. Interestingly, Obama presently leads McCain in Pennsylvania by five points.

Ohio - always Ohio! Bush's narrow victory here in 2004 earned him a second term. Obama lost Ohio's primary by ten points and race again was a factor. But the Republicans are still reeling from a big scandal (to do with the re-drawing of congressional districts), so the state should probably be classified as too close to call.

The Democrats alienated Michigan by not recognizing the results of the state's primary then counting its convention delegates as only half voters. They have a bad public relations problem in a state that both Gore and Kerry won. On the other hand, the state of the auto-based economy is horrific and the straight-talking John McCain chose Michigan as the place to tell auto workers that their jobs were never coming back... He went on to lose the primary to Mitt Romney.

Wisconsin is always razor-thin for one party or the other. Obama is bolstered there by having won the primary, receiving strong support among WEMC. But that was before clips his former Reverend Jeremiah Wright emerged, arguing that America had brought 9/11 on itself.

I think Virginia is the Ohio and Florida of 2008. With a huge demographic boom of government and knowledge workers in the Northern suburbs, this state has been trending Democrat. War hero McCain is also very popular here - look for this one to be fiercely fought.

Iowa and New Mexico were also very close in 2000 and 2004. Both Blue for Gore, they were just barely Red for Bush in 2004. Both should be comfortably in the Democratic column this year.

Missouri is a pretty Red (Republican) state that has been voting Democrat in state-level elections. Obama won the primary this year and will do very well in the vote-rich St Louis and Kansas City areas, but the so-called "outstate" is very southern and conservative. Still - it could well turn Blue.

Colorado has a huge influx of transplanted knowledge workers and Latinos. Also Red in the past two elections, this state looks like a good prospect for the Democrats. Small wonder that the Democratic National Committee has chosen Denver - the state's largest city - for its convention.

Nevada was Red in both past elections but is clearly trending Democrat.

Other states to watch

Possible Red to Blue: Indiana, North Carolina, and Georgia. As for Florida, McCain leads there and Republican Governor Charlie Crist is very popular - but the economy is hurting, especially in South Florida, so the state could possibly show signs of swinging later.

Possible Blue to Red: Oregon. Some Republicans think that New Jersey, California, and Minnesota can go their way, but they are definitely wrong about the first two.

Key unknowns

If Obama wins Virginia and Colorado, it will mean that McCain must win Pennsylvania and Michigan. That could happen, but more states today look likely to go from Red to Blue than vice-versa.

My feeling is that this election will be reminiscent of 1980 - close, until the dam bursts at the last minute. Today, I think it is likely to break big for Obama, but I know that both candidates will fall on their faces several times over the next few months.

And we still have two key unknown factors - McCain's age and Obama's race. We have never had a 71-year-old running against an African American before.


Electoral College votes

Winning post 270
Obama - Democrat
365
McCain - Republican
173
Select from the list below to view state level results.


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