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The State of the Election: Battlegrounds

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Sunday, November 2, 2008; Page AA02

Colorado (9 electoral votes)

The Rocky Mountains have become the newest presidential battleground, with Colorado looming as the biggest prize in the region this fall. Colorado hasn't voted for a Democrat for president since 1992, but it increasingly looks like Barack Obama country.

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Democrats targeted the state early and held their convention in Denver to signal their determination to continue a political conversion in the state. And Obama has tried to overwhelm John McCain with money and manpower. The senator from Illinois has more than 50 offices around the state to mobilize his voters, compared with McCain's dozen. McCain drew several thousand enthusiastic supporters in Denver a week ago; two days later, Obama drew 100,000. An Obama victory here would close off a critically important avenue that the senator from Arizona needs to reach 270 electoral votes.

Democrats hope to continue their recent success in other races by picking up the seat of retiring Sen. Wayne Allard (R). Rep. Mark Udall (D) is the heavy favorite over former representative Bob Schaffer, who saw the Republican senatorial committee pull down its ads more than a week before the election.

In House races, Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R) is in trouble against Betsy Markey (D), a former aide to Sen. Ken Salazar (D). Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman (R), who served a tour as a Marine officer in Iraq, is expected to easily defeat Democrat Hank Eng in the race to replace Tom Tancredo in the strongly Republican 6th District. Tancredo is retiring after a failed bid for the GOP presidential nomination. Udall's 2nd District seat, which includes Boulder, is likely to be won by Democrat Jared Polis, a former chairman of the Colorado Board of Education. He faces Republican Scott Starin, who works in the aerospace industry.

Florida (27)

The state at the center of the 2000 presidential election is one of a handful of true tossups in the fight between McCain and Obama.

Obama spent millions of dollars on commercials in the late summer and early fall before McCain responded with ads of his own. While polling initially showed Obama's ads having little effect, as the fall has worn on the race for the Sunshine State has tightened considerably, with most surveys showing the two candidates in a statistical dead heat.

The crucial area is the Interstate 4 corridor, which crisscrosses Florida from Flagler County on the east coast to Sarasota County on the west coast. Every recent statewide election has been decided in this area, and all six statewide elected officials hail from one of the 12 counties considered part of the I-4 corridor.

The state is also rife with competitive House races. Two Orlando-area Republicans -- Reps. Tom Feeney and Ric Keller -- appear headed for defeat. Feeney is being challenged by former state representative Suzanne Kosmas, Keller by lawyer Alan Grayson.

In the Miami area, the GOP brothers Diaz-Balart -- Lincoln in the 21st District, Mario in the 25th -- face serious challenges from well-known figures in South Florida's Hispanic community. Republicans are more optimistic about Lincoln's chances against former Hialeah mayor Raul Martinez than they are about Mario's challenge from Joe Garcia, the former Miami-Dade Democratic chairman.

In South Florida's 16th District, Rep. Tim Mahoney (D) -- brought low by his high-profile admission of extramarital affairs -- is a likely loser against lawyer Tom Rooney (R), whose family owns football's Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rep. Verne Buchanan (R), who won by just 369 votes in 2006, seems safe in his 13th District rematch against Christine Jennings (D). In the state's only open-seat contest, state Sen. Bill Posey (R) is the favorite over physician Steve Blythe in the race to succeed retiring Rep. Dave Weldon (R) in the Space Coast 15th District.

Georgia (15)

Georgia has been a solidly Republican state, but Obama invested heavily in voter-registration efforts, hoping a huge turnout among blacks could push him toward victory. When polls showed McCain in good shape earlier this fall, the Obama campaign took down its television ads but kept some staff in the state. With polls now tightening and early-vote numbers looking positive, Obama decided to begin running ads again this weekend. McCain still rates a narrow favorite, but the margin could be smaller than expected.

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