(CNN) - The McCain campaign is looking at an Electoral College strategy heading into the final two weeks that has virtually no room for error and depends heavily on a dramatic comeback in Pennsylvania, which hasn't backed a Republican for president in 20 years.
While Iowa, New Mexico and Colorado are still officially listed as McCain target states, two top strategists and advisers tell CNN that the situation in those states looks increasingly bleak. Iowa and New Mexico always have been viewed as difficult races, but the similar assessment of Colorado reflects a dramatic shift for a campaign that had long counted on the state.
"Gone," was the word one top McCain insider used to describe those three states.
This source said while the polls in Colorado remain close, he and most others in the operation were of the opinion that the Obama campaign and its allies have a far superior ground/turnout operation and "most of us have a hard time counting on Colorado."
Campaign manager Rick Davis is among the dissenters, believing the state remains within reach, several sources in and close to the McCain campaign say.
Election Center: Check out the latest state polls
The McCain strategy depends on holding a handful of Bush '04 states that are now rated tossups by CNN: Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Missouri and Nevada. It also depends on keeping Virginia, which CNN now considers leaning Democratic, in the GOP column.
But even if McCain won all six of those states, in addition to those in which he is already favored, he would still be shy of the 270 electoral votes needed to claim the presidency.
Which is where Pennsylvania and its 21 electoral votes come into play. Most polls show McCain trailing by 10 points or more in the state, but one top adviser told CNN on Monday, "The election hinges on Pennsylvania. We'll win Virginia and Nevada in the end, but lose without Pennsylvania."
President Bush twice heavily targeted Pennsylvania - but both times came up short.
Despite the less than optimistic political assessment of Colorado, McCain at the moment continues to buy television advertising in the state: roughly $700,000 a week the past two weeks with similar spending levels ordered for the week ahead.
Obama is spending a little less than $1 million a week in Colorado.
(One of the McCain sources said that ad spending in Colorado could be increased - even doubled - to somewhere in the ballpark of $1.5 million. "We're not giving up on Colorado," one of the sources said. "But we need to have a math scenario that doesn't count on it.”)
That Obama advantage is also on display in North Carolina, where the Democratic nominee has outspent McCain more than 3 to 1 on television ads.
In the past week, however, McCain essentially matched the Obama levels - $1.1 million to $1.2 million, respectively.
McCain campaign communications director Jill Hazelbaker disputed the sources' accounts.
"We see the race tightening both internally and in public polling," she said. "We are within striking distance in the key battleground states we need to win."
What the sources emphasized was that the campaign needed an alternative to 270 that did not count on Iowa, Nevada and Colorado. They did not say the campaign was ready to pull resources.
The internal discussions reflect the narrow menu of options for McCain.
The sources' sober assessment of Colorado and even more downbeat view of McCains prospects in Nevada come even as GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin campaigns Monday and Tuesday in Colorado and Nevada. From there, Palin moves on to Ohio.
WHEN IS GEORGE W. BUSH GOING TO ENDORSE OBAMA?
going going GONE
just like our RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS!!!!
He could maybe campaign for the position for the first Dude in Alaska as soon as Sarah's husband gets the state away from the United States.
If you support Obama, don't get complacent thinking because he is ahead in the polls that he is going to win the election.
YOU HAVE TO VOTE!
AND YOUNG PEOPLE–you are the culprits most of the time–lots of talk and no do!
I have never missed an election since JFK–not a local, state, or national election. I worked on Robert Kennedy's campaign until the moment he was murdered.
Obama is a special man like JFK and RFK. I was there then and I know it now!
Do your duty and you will elect the best candidates! OBAMA/BIDEN
Colorado voters.... vote for Obama.... remember the slogan of Hillary Clinton....JOBS BABY JOBS
i wish CNN would be truthful. Today Obama has a 11 point lead in the gallup poll, and a 6-8 point lead on Real clear politics. Ok, so you got your horse race, but give up this nonsense already. The polls may be inflated, but highly unlike McCain will recover from this stupidity!
GOOD LUCK WITH THAT BUDDY!
YOU DON'T HAVE CALI OR NY AND LOOKS LIKE FL IS OUT THE WINDOW.
THESE ARE INTELLIGENT PEOPLE. THEY SEE RIGHT THROUGH YOU NO POLICY/MCBUSH EFFORTS.
Maybe McCain should just go back to Arizona right now.
Go get COLORADO, Obama!!
Obama/Biden in '08!
THANK YOU COLORADO!
COME ON COLLEGE STUDENTS GET OUT AND VOTE!
YES WE CAN!!
LET'S REJECT THE POLITICS OF HATE, LIES AND FEAR OF THE REPUBLICANS!
for all those that think that black voting overwhelmingly for Barack is because he's black stop and think...Blacks always vote overwhelming Democratic.
There has never been a signficant black vote for Repubs. If Barack were white...do you think blacks would vote for McCain?
I know! Since calling Obama a terrorist didn't work and calling Obama a socialist didn't work – how about McCain change his slogan to: Obama eats kittens!
McCain can't win without Colorado. He just can't.
I voted early to avoid the long lines.
I think this is a great GOP strategy. Giuliani says its the way to go. yup.
Senator McCain, you lost my vote because your campaign became so negative. Senator Obama is not a terrorist. He does not practice socialism/communism. TAX CUT FOR AMERICANS WHO DOES NOT MAKE $250,000.00 PER YEAR IS NOT WELFARE.
PEOPLE WHO DID NOT WORK OR NOT WORKING AND RECEIVING MONEY FROM THE GOVERNMENT IS WELFARE.
Going, going . . . .
CNN you can stop trying to manipulate the polls! Obama, by the way, i believe is ahead MUCH MUCH more than these so called polls are showing but at the same time folks PLEASE GO VOTE! DON'T "EXPECT" THAT WE ARE AHEAD AND YOUR FRIEND IS VOTING SO YOU DON'T HAVE TO. SEND PALIN AND HER LYING BS BACK TO THE ICE STATE!!!
It's OVER McCain ... bow out gracefully. You stated you would just go back to Arizona and live in one of your seven houses ... do that, and don't forget to JET Sarah Palin back to Alaska as you slipped her in ...
Good plan McGrumpy ... Colorado is going blue this year : )
McCain is like a 10 year old trying to win a game of risk with only 4 pieces left. Throwing a temper tantrum about how the other guy must have cheated. He may pick up the board and throw it at obama before admitting defeat. Throw in the towel old guy...we want change.
If Colorado voters can't SEE that obama is a "wolf in sheeps clothing" they are going to be sorry. Our economy is in deep trouble and needs a cut in spending BY GOVERNMENT as well as the American public. It's the only way to turn the economy around. Obama is not going to REDUCE 95% of the taxes people pay, just redistribute how he gets it from US. We will pay some way or the other. With him in, he will announce that he mis-calculated his figures, SORRY, but you will have to pay more in taxes ! On tyhe other hand, McCain will reduce spending to a point that we will recover a lot less painfully. He( John ) will put the interests of the US Voter public first, he will put country first. Know this and VOTE accordingly.
Early voting in Co. Me and five of my friends just came from voting. Obama has our vote
The reason the "american people" think McCain is running a negative campaign is because CNN is saying so, over and over and over again. CNN and the other organs of the Democrat party are guilty of the rape of our country. We will never ever forget and we will never forgive.
Dear Rick Davis,
It's over, Barack will win. Go home, put your feet up and have a beer, preferably with John McCain. We're going to win, and I'm going to Florida this weekend to help make that happen.