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Mark Z. Barabak writes about politics for the Los Angeles Times. He has been a newspaper reporter for more than 30 years, covering campaigns and elections in 48 of the 50 states, including all or part of the last eight presidential contests and seven California gubernatorial races. He joined the Times in 1997 after stints at UPI, the San Francisco Chronicle and Copley News Service.
Recent commentary

Nov. 3: Nothing is certain in life, except for the ending. That said, all signs point to a Barack Obama victory Tuesday, and a handy one at that. Ohio moves from toss-up to lean Obama, given a stream of polls putting the Democrat at the crucial 50%-plus mark and signs of a flagging GOP ground game. A Buckeye win would be the back-breaker for John McCain; no Republican has won the White House without Ohio since Abraham Lincoln in 1860. That leaves just three toss-up states on Election Day: Florida, Indiana and North Carolina. There may be surprises: in Georgia, the Dakotas, Arizona or South Carolina. But if they were predicted here, they wouldn't be surprises.

Oct. 31: A ray of sunshine for Republican John McCain from, fittingly, the Sunshine State. Polls suggest the race in Florida is tightening, showing the Arizona senator's intense focus is paying off. Also, the GOP is mounting its traditionally strong absentee ballot program, helping offset a big early vote among Democrats. So the state moves from leaning toward Democratic Sen. Barack Obama back into the toss-up column. That's the good news for McCain. The bad news is he could win the state's 27 electoral votes and still lose the election.

Oct. 27: So this is what political water torture feels like. Two more states move from solid for Republican John McCain to the lean category: South Carolina and his home state of Arizona. McCain should still carry both on Election Day. But new polling in Arizona and a strong early turnout of black voters in South Carolina, where Democrat Barack Obama romped to victory in the primary season, suggest McCain can no longer be so sure.

Oct. 26: Story: .

Oct. 24: The tough slog gets even tougher for Republican John McCain. Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and New Mexico move from lean to solid for Democrat Barack Obama. Montana shifts from solid to lean McCain, as Obama appears to be gaining some late traction in the state. Georgia, now lean McCain, would provide one of the big surprises on election night if Obama were to prevail. At least one survey puts the race neck-and-neck, and African Americans, part of Obama's base, are turning out in sizable number in early voting. In a bright spot for McCain, West Virginia appears to be holding firm and shifts from toss-up back to lean McCain.

Oct. 19: With the weekend comes a fresh batch of polls, new political data and more tough sledding for Republican John McCain against Democrat Barack Obama. Virginia and Nevada move from toss-up to lean Obama, as polls show the Democrat hovering near the critical 50% mark. In the Silver State, political pundit Jon Ralston notes the strong Democratic turnout in early balloting, suggesting the likely strength of the Illinois senator's turnout operation. With money to burn, and polls giving Obama a shot, Georgia and North Dakota no longer seem as certain for the Arizona senator, so they move from solid to lean McCain.

Oct. 16: Pick your cliche: game-changer, tide-turner. There didn't seem to be any of those in Wednesday night's third and final presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama, meaning the GOP nominee still faces a tough climb to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House. And McCain's climb has just gotten tougher as Florida moves from toss-up to leaning Obama. Florida's governor, Charlie Crist, gave McCain a huge boost with his endorsement in the primary season. But Crist now says Florida business comes first and he'll campaign for McCain when he has time. Not a good sign, especially with polls showing Democrat Obama hovering around the 50% mark and Florida Republicans openly playing the blame game.

Oct. 12: With just about three weeks left in the campaign, Republican John McCain faces an increasingly steep and narrow path to the 270 electoral votes he needs to win the White House. The third and final presidential debate Wednesday night may be the Arizona senator's last best chance to reverse the momentum that has shifted strongly toward the Democratic nominee, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

Oct. 7: Story: John McCain's options narrow on the electoral college map.

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