This is how close the contest for the White House really is: It comes down to an Electoral College slugfest over 14 states, and in some of those key states the race is too close to call.
New polls indicated that Republican John McCain has lost the bounce he got from the GOP's convention and his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. A CBS News-New York Times national survey showed Democrat Barack Obama leading McCain 48 percent to 43 percent, and a Quinnipiac University poll gives Obama a similar 49-45 edge.
And a new poll of voters in the eight states home to Big 10 universities show Obama and McCain in a statistical tie in seven of the states: Ohio, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana and Pennsylvania. Obama leads comfortably in his home state of Illinois, 53-37 percentage points, according to the first Big Ten Battleground poll, co-directed by University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientists Charles Franklin and Ken Goldstein.
The closeness of the race has apparently prompted Obama to abandon earlier plans to fight for votes in states that generally go Republican, and the 2008 presidential race has settled on the familiar battleground and swing states.
"There is emerging now a set of battleground states that are where most of the time, attention and money will be concentrated," said Brad Woodhouse, Democratic National Committee senior adviser.
ABC News has identified 14 states that could go for either Obama or McCain in November. Those states include Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia, Missouri, Indiana, Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada and New Hampshire.
Those 14 states have a total of 175 electoral votes up for grabs, more than half of the 270 needed to claim victory.
Click for the latest from ABC News' 50 States in 50 Days coverage with stories, video and blogs about what's at stake in this election for voters across the nation.
Despite Obama's effort to expand the nation's electoral map, the election is poised to hang on the same states that proved decisive in 2000 and 2004. The candidates' spending indicates the importance those states play in their strategies for victory.
Last week alone, Obama and McCain spent $15 million on ad wars, according to a study by the Wisconsin Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin. Those ads were limited to 17 states, with more than half of the money spent in six states -- Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.
"At this point in the campaign, the candidates are spending in excess of about $1.4 million a day on TV ads, and this is not even the most that they will be spending," said Evan Tracey, CEO of TMS' Campaign Media Analysis Group, who tracks presidential campaign media buys.
The fact that the race has reverted to the usual blue and red divide does not surprise Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.
"Inevitably between 40 and 45 of the states will stay the same color, either red or blue," Sabato said. But he believes Obama has the edge.
"Generally, Obama has more opportunities than McCain does because of President Bush's unpopularity and the economic meltdown we're all witnessing," Sabato said.