The Electoral College is the only thing.
Recent national polls say the presidential race is ultra-close. But the number that counts is electoral votes: Whoever gets 270 wins the White House.
That race -- the one that counts -- is nearly tied as well: Polling firm Rasmussen Reports says Democrat Barack Obama has about 193 electoral votes in hand right now, while Republican John McCain has about 183.
That includes states that are either strongly in one camp or the other, as well as states that are said to be leaning one way or the other.
Even more significant is the trend line: Rasmussen says previous totals had Obama at 210 electoral votes and McCain with 165 -- meaning McCain has closed the gap significantly.
Rasmussen only lists three states as toss-ups: Colorado, Virginia and Nevada. But most observers feel other swing states include Florida, Missouri and Ohio (which Rasmussen has in McCain's total) and Michigan and Pennsylvania (which Rasmussen says is leaning Obama's way). So anything could happen.
But as interesting as the national polls are, this is not technically a national election: It's the election of a president by the states.
The trend lines in the states are interesting too. According to Rasmussen -- which classifies states as "toss up" and "safe," "likely" or merely "leaning" for either Republican or Democrat -- here's the most recent major movement among states, with their number of electoral votes:
- Ohio (20) -- moved from Toss-up to Leans Republican
- North Carolina (15) -- moved from Leans Republican to Likely Republican
- Wisconsin (10) -- moved from Likely Democratic to Leans Democratic.
- Colorado (9) -- moved from Leans Democratic to Toss-Up
- Oregon (7) -- moved from Likely Democratic to Leans Democratic
- South Dakota (3) -- moved from Leans Republican to Likely Republican
The trend lines are troubling for Obama, in that in each case the trend was either toward toss-up or toward McCain.
These will be the important numbers to watch as the fall campaign gets into high gear.