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Starting Gate: The Magic Number

A year and a half of solid campaigning, nearly a billion dollars raised and spent overall by a dozen candidates, all the debates, late-night primary results and speeches all add up to one magic number – 270. At the end of the day, that's how many Electoral Votes are needed to win presidency and for the next two months, that will be a primary focus of both the campaigns and the media.

To help out with the Electoral College calculations, unveils its Ways to Win interactive map. Assign a winner to each state and build a path to 270 for either John McCain. Start out with our swing state scenario which awards "safe" states and leaves the rest up for grabs, work off of the results from 2004 or start from scratch with a blank map.

In the swing state scenario, CBS News has identified 15 states with 177 Electoral Votes up for grabs, based on states decided by 5 points or less in 2004 or where both campaigns are dedicating serious resources. This list will grow or shrink based on the outlook over the next two-plus months but setting out, it includes: Colorado (9 Electoral Votes), Florida (27), Indiana (11), Iowa (7), Michigan (17), Minnesota (10), Missouri (11), Nevada (5), New Hampshire (4), New Mexico (5), Ohio (20), Oregon (7), Pennsylvania (21), Virginia (13) and Wisconsin (10).

Both candidates have clearly signaled that they have big targets in mind. McCain has made a big push in Michigan, would love to put Pennsylvania really into play despite its trend toward Democrats and Minnesota was picked as the site to the GOP convention for this very reason. Likewise, Obama isn't about to write off Florida or Ohio, the states which have decided the last two presidential elections. And he's making a play for suddenly up-for-grabs Virginia and his neighboring state of Indiana.

But it could be smaller states that may well end up playing the decisive role. You can switch around a lot of states to gain different results, but consider this: If Obama were to win Iowa, Colorado and New Mexico (all Bush states in 2004) and McCain were to take New Hampshire (a Kerry state) and everything else remained the same from four years ago, the Electoral College total would end up in a tie, 269 to 269.

That's just a sample of the different combinations. Click around and find your own path to 270 for each candidate, see profiles of the swing states and get the latest news for the major battleground with our Ways to Win map.

Around The Track

  • Barack Obama gave a glimpse of what he's looking for in a running mate while addressing supporters in North Carolina yesterday, reports CBS News' Maria Gavrilovic. "I want somebody who has integrity, who's in politics for the right reasons, I want somebody who is independent," Obama said. "Somebody who is able to say to me, 'you know what, Mr. President I think you're wrong on this and here's why' and will give me who will help me think through major issues and consult with me, would be a key advisor."
  • Speculation for Obama's number two spot remains focused on Joe Biden, Tim Kaine, Evan Bayh and Kathleen Sebelius but Ralph Nader tells the Politico he thinks Hillary Clinton will get the nod.
  • Meanwhile, the guessing game on the Republican side has Senator Joe Lieberman moving up on John McCain's list.
  • A new Reuters/Zogby poll has John McCain up nationally 46 percent to 41 percent.