PHILADELPHIA — In the final stretch of a presidential campaign, the candidates' schedules speak volumes about what's really going on, even more than polls.
For the past 10 days, Democrat Barack Obama has been on the offense, campaigning exclusively in states won by President Bush four years ago. He even felt confident enough last week to visit Indiana, which hasn't gone Democratic since 1964.
Republican John McCain has been working those same red states, playing defense; his predicament is such that he's scheduled Tuesday to go to North Carolina, even though it's voted Republican the past seven times.
McCain's only blue-state destination has been Pennsylvania, repeatedly. It is where he hopes to find his political salvation.
With nine days left before Election Day, the reality is that Obama has multiple paths to reach the needed 270 electoral votes while McCain's options are few.
State-by-state polls suggest that if everything breaks right for Obama, he might approach the 379 electoral votes that Bill Clinton amassed in 1996, when he won re-election against Bob Dole.
Thanks in part to his financial advantage, Obama is competitive in places that were off-limits to Democrats for years.
"Strategically, we tried to have as wide a map as possible," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said. "... And we think we've been able to create that dynamic."
The tilt of the playing field helps explain McCain's focus on Pennsylvania — he was in Bensalem last week, he's scheduled to be in Pottsville on Monday and Hershey on Tuesday — despite trailing in state polls by about 10 points. He has no other choice.
The reason is that Obama is ahead in all of the states the Democrats carried in 2004, including Pennsylvania, and in some states won by the GOP.
Consider this winning McCain scenario, improbable as it may seem:
Assume McCain loses the four red states where the Obama campaign feels it's strongest: Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico and Virginia....