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1 day until the Republican convention 65 days until election day

NEWS SUMMARY

You may have heard that this presidential election is by all accounts expected to be a close one.

Our current Electoral College outlook will not disappoint in that vein.

Our new ratings have George W. Bush edging out John Kerry by a single electoral vote (222 to 221) with 95 electoral votes up for grabs. As we have Noted many times before, the road to 270 electoral votes has fewer obstacles for President Bush than it does for John Kerry.

Still, based on our reporting with deep thinkers in both parties, independent analysts, and keen state observers, and on polling and historical data, the reality is that 31 states and the District of Columbia currently look as if they will be innocent bystanders in this presidential election.

Here, then, is our sense of where the states stand -- certain to be updated throughout the fall, and just as certain to cause yelling, disputations, and hissy fits galore.

As always, our Electoral College ratings are a combination of our current sense of where things stand in each state, plus a projection to where we think things will be headed by election day. For obvious reasons, we don't base this exclusively on the latest state polls.

Of course, states can (and likely will) shift category between now and October (and perhaps beyond).

As of today, we have 20 states as "likely Republican" states and 11 states plus the District of Columbia as "likely Democrat" states, bringing the base electoral vote counts to 166 for President Bush and 168 for Sen. Kerry.

That leaves us with 19 battleground states, which we allotted to Bush or Kerry as best we could at the moment.

We have nudged, or forced, six of those states into Bush's column and four into Kerry's column -- making the tough calls about where currently close states will likely end up when the voting actually happens.

However, our trying to squeeze these states onto one candidate's side or the other should in no way diminish any given state's status as a place where the presidential battle is being joined.

When we factor in these battleground assignments, as we said, George Bush leads John Kerry by one electoral vote -- 222 to 221.

That leaves us with nine states (representing a total of 95 electoral votes) still very much up for grabs, and with both sides short of the magic 270.

NEEDED TO WIN: 270 electoral votes

Here is what has changed since our last electoral college update in June: LINK

1. Louisiana has been removed from the battleground list and placed in the "likely Republican" category.

2. North Carolina has been added to the battleground states, although it still is leaning Republican.

3. We have moved Florida and Nevada from Republican leaning (or "pushed") battleground states to toss-ups.

4. We have moved Iowa and Minnesota from Democratic leaning (or "pushed") battleground states to toss-ups.

5. And in what may be our most provocative move, we have pushed the battleground state of Pennsylvania from the "toss-up"category to a Democratic leaning (or "pushed") battleground state. No less an authority than Karl Rove told Fox News Channel's Brit Hume this week that the President was running a bit behind John Kerry in the Keystone State.

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