Where does the presidential race stand? You can look at the polls, but that isn’t the best indication of where the race is neck-and-neck or safely in one side’s pocket. A GOP insider from Boston said public polling isn’t as revealing as other factors, including where ads remain on the air.

“Both sides have plenty of money,” he said. So don’t expect ads to come down in the next couple of weeks, even in battleground states, leaning heavily one way.

However, where the candidates spend precious time is exceptionally telling. The GOP insider noted, “The president flew over North Carolina today.” That confirms the assumption that North Carolina is safely on Mitt Romney’s side of the ledger (unless something changes). Conversely, Romney was in Nevada on Tuesday and will be going up with ads there. Like New Hampshire, Nevada is a state the Romney camp fully believes it can win.

In the larger map, Republicans see Florida and Virginia moving steadily in Romney’s direction in both private and public polling. “This race will be decided in the Midwest – not where Obama wanted to be – and not in the South.” As for Ohio, multiple GOP operatives and those privy to the campaign’s private polling tell me that for more than a week Ohio has drifted between +2 for Romney to +2 for the president. Meanwhile, Iowa and now Wisconsin are considered, after the southern states, quite gettable for Romney. Now Romney campaign staffers are discussing whether to make a serious play both for Pennsylvania and for Michigan. The map is plainly expanding for the Romney campaign.

The GOP insider told me, “I look at it this way: In our ledger there are two columns. In one we are closing out states. They have more and more states still there,” that is, not in their column of electoral votes. That gives Romney many more avenues to get to 270 electoral votes.

The Romney team considers the debates as a whole, not as four separate contests. They see in focus groups and polling marked progress for Romney from the beginning of Oct. 9 (pre-debates) to the present on the top-line horse-race number, favorability, and credibility as commander in chief. He has improved dramatically with both women and independents. Romney campaign officials do not think the third debate will slow or reverse this motion. They therefore contend that it is only a matter of time before state polling (already shifting toward Romney) reflects this fundamental shift in the race.

The race is still close in many key states, so even a few points shifting in a critical state may make a huge difference. There is no doubt, however, to those close to the race and most familiar with the data used to determine ad buys and travel schedules that they’d rather be in Romney’s position than in Obama’s. Given truth serum, the Obama camp would readily agree with that handicapping.