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11 electoral votes

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Obama 1,367,264

McCain 1,341,101

North Carolina

15 electoral votes

Obama 2,123,390

McCain 2,109,698


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13 electoral votes

Obama 1,958,370

McCain 1,726,053

Seeking lost ground

This trio of historically Republican states is seen by party strategists as the easiest to pluck back from Democrats.

Combined, they represent 39 electoral votes, which would provide Mr. Romney a big boost toward the 270 needed to win the White House.

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However, not all of these states can be considered equal.

While Indiana is seen as a lost cause to many Democratic strategists, Virginia is seen as a long shot for Mr. Romney because the margin of loss for the Republicans in the last election was much more significant than, say, the sliver of 0.3 per cent in North Carolina.

For Mr. Obama, North Carolina is a huge priority.

The Democratic National Convention will be held in Charlotte this September, underscoring its strategic importance. The state has been hit hard by the economic downturn, with the loss of textile and manufacturing jobs stoking frustration.

"North Carolina, I think we have to wait and see. I think it's very much up for grabs," Mr. Devine said.

Bolstering Karl Rove's argument, polls show the state could be slipping away from Mr. Obama. A May 14 Rasmussen poll of likely voters showed 51 per cent for Mr. Romney and 43 per cent for Mr. Obama.

Polls also show the race in Virginia is narrowing. In 2008, Mr. Obama won it by more than six percentage points. Now he remains ahead by slightly more than three points, according to the RealClearPolitics average of state polls.

"Numbers are numbers," Mr. Carville said. "My guess is that North Carolina and Indiana would be easier for Mr. Romney than Virginia. But it's still going to be hard, and he has to carry all three of them for Karl's calculations to work."

Sonia Verma

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