Since 1902

Washington, Monday

The US presidential election hinges on a handful of battleground states where opinion polls show Democrat Barack Obama holding a significant lead on Republican rival John McCain.

Obama leads in all of the states won by Democrat John Kerry in 2004 as well as in several states won by Republican President George W Bush, recent polls show.

Obama or McCain need 270 electoral votes to win the Electoral College and capture the White House in the Nov. 4 election.

The president is determined not by the most votes nationally but by a majority of the Electoral College, which has 538 members allotted to all 50 states and the District of Columbia in proportion to their representation in Congress.

* Florida -- 27 electoral votes. Bush beat Kerry 52 percent to 47 percent in a state known for the disputed result that decided the 2000 election. Florida is a classic swing state with a heavy concentration of older voters who could favor McCain. It also has many Jewish voters who are normally Democratic but have been wary of Obama. Three recent polls have all given Obama a 5-point edge, maintaining his persistent but sometimes narrow lead in a state that McCain must win to take the presidency.

* Ohio -- 20 electoral votes. Bush beat Kerry by about 120,000 votes in the state that ultimately decided the 2004 race. No Republican has won the White House without Ohio and McCain will have a hard time piecing together a win without the state. A Monday poll gave McCain a 1 point edge, while two other recent surveys put Obama ahead by 2 and 5 points.

* Pennsylvania -- 21 electoral votes. Kerry beat Bush 51 percent to 48 percent in 2004 but Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states won by Kerry where McCain’s camp had seen a chance to reverse the result. The most recent poll showed Obama up by 12 points, the latest in a string of surveys that have given him a double-digit lead in the state.

* Virginia -- 13 electoral votes. Bush won fairly easily by 9 points in 2004 in a state that has not gone Democratic in a presidential election since 1964. But Virginia’s trend has been toward Democrats in recent state elections amid dramatic growth in the Democratic-leaning northern suburbs of Washington, D.C. Two polls last week gave Obama leads of 6 and 10 points.