Every four years, political operatives fixate on the dozen or so states that always decide close presidential elections.
This time, Obama hopes to play on as big an Electoral College map as possible, and his team insists it will compete for the first time in traditionally solid Republican states like Georgia and Arizona. Republicans, conversely, want a compact map, hoping for wins in big, always-contested states such as Florida and Ohio, which were key to George W. Bush's victories in 2000 and 2004.
It takes 270 electoral votes to win the White House.
But with unemployment now at 9.1 percent, and the economic recovery slowed, many Republicans argue that Obama's chances are notably worse in those states, as well as others in the vote-rich, economically struggling Midwest. They say they can win some, if not all, of three crucial battleground states — Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania — along with some smaller states that Obama carried, including New Mexico, Nevada and Iowa. Republicans thrived in all those states in the 2010 midterm elections, and GOP strategists hope the momentum will carry into next year, thwarting Obama.
"The map is very difficult for him," said Rick Wiley, political director of the Republican National Committee.