We’ve known for many months that the presidential election will be won or lost in a handful of states spread out across the United States. It’s also common knowledge that Senator Barack Obama is polling historically well in a number of states that haven’t turned out for Democrats since President Clinton’s decisive 1996 victory. Old Republican strongholds like Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and Colorado are in play with Obama currently slated to claim victory with a plurality of electoral votes, possibly winning a landslide victory defined by at least an 8 percent margin in the popular vote and over 350-375 electoral votes. Constant poll watching – you might call it slavering – is a decidedly 21st century fad, with daily deviation and “bounces” that give politicos such a buzzing high. In order to have a good idea of where the chips might fall on Nov. 4th, it’s best to step above the polling furor and observe the big picture in each state.

Virginia: This state became the first traditionally red state to hint at Obama’s wide electoral strength. He has enjoyed a respectable lead for the entire race there and currently sits 6 to 8 percent above Senator McCain. Popular Gov. Tim Kaine and Sen. Jim Webb have figured prominently in Obama’s campaign, both included on the candidate’s vice-presidential shortlist. The Democratic primary race proved how valuable this sort of support is, especially the governor who can equally influence his constituents to contribute financially and erect the vital grassroots network necessary to getting out the vote (GOTV to us junkies). Barring an unforeseen event that might involve, as one famous senator once said, a candidate in bed with a “dead girl or live boy,” Virginia will deliver its electoral votes to Obama come Election Day. Prediction: Obama by 3.5 percent.

North Carolina: With a hefty 15 electoral votes at stake, Senator Obama again stretched out to an early lead after winning handily in the North Carolinian Democratic primary. Again enjoying the support of a popular governor in Mike Easley – not to mention that of the shamed John Edwards, who wasted no time in disappearing after his scandal – Barack Obama is polling higher with white voters than any Democrat since the southern Jimmy Carter. Obama’s total capturing of the black vote gives him an advantage in the deep south that no other northern candidate could possibly have. In recent weeks, the numbers have steadied to indicate an Obama lead of one to three points, meaning that both candidates are scrambling to snare every undecided still in existence there. Obama’s massive fundraising lead translates to around the clock advertising that McCain can’t compete with, but as the underdog McCain can trot out the sort of negative campaign that is unbecoming to the frontrunner. If McCain can find another Jeremiah Wright or Bill Ayers, it’ll be easy to dissuade enough hesitant undecideds to either vote McCain or not at all. Prediction: McCain by 1 to 1.5 percent.

Georgia: Georgia represents the biggest stretch for Sen. McCain, but a man named Bob Barr might influence the outcome more than Republicans would prefer. Barr is the native son Libertarian candidate who has polled a significant 6 to 8 percent in his home state. If the prominent Libertarian siphons enough votes away from McCain, a larger-than-expected black turnout could push this state into Obama territory and offer a very rewarding coup to Barack. A Georgia victory for Obama would likely only occur in tune with an Obama landslide, but on Election Day far stranger things have happened. Prediction: McCain by 4 to 5 percent.

Colorado – Obama’s rally in Denver attracted over 100,000 people, a feat McCain couldn’t begin to dream of accomplishing. A nascent inclusion in the Obama column, Colorado, like Georgia, would offer Obama more of an ideological mandate should he win. The trend of polling well in states with friendly Governors continues here as Bill Ritter has consistently turned out big audiences for Obama and has fired up his voters enough to convince me Obama’s Colorado strength is for real. Though Colorado is home to only a small percentage of African-Americans, the white voters there are progressive enough to favor the Democrat in large numbers and if Obama can utilize the last days of the campaign to effectively inspire enough confidence in white males, traditionally late to decide, he can pull out a comfortable victory. Prediction: Obama by 2 percent.

Yes, McCain wins two of these four states in my prediction, but remember that any Obama victory in a red state is vital to his chances at garnering 270 electoral votes. McCain has failed to make a dent in any blue state, so Obama can count on a base of 250-260 electoral votes in the states that John Kerry won in 2004. If Obama can win two of these four states, along with any of Iowa, Florida, Missouri or Ohio, networks should be able to call the race for Obama without any of the drama of the last two elections.