(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.
good luck, early voting started in florida and i cast mine for obama.
i was surprised how long the lines were.
what McCain is up against is "THE MATH" Rove so wonderfully implemented in 2006 which began this unraveling of the Republican monopoly on power in Washington. Rove's math and tactics will be the undoing of the Republicans this election. The GOP has succeeded in fooling some of the people some of the time in the past – too many are wiser as a result for the same diversionary tactics to work again this election.
Whether Palin is hurting McCain is obvious and of course no one expects McCain to admit his error. It's not important that McCain admits his error because Americans are showing they don't support his error at the polls. This isn't the first time McCain's judgement has failed him and as time goes on it is likely it will be impaired.
mccain wont get my vote. i voted fro barack, today. any repub dont like it can kiss my lilly white rear!
Maybe McLame needs to run some more negative ads.
-it seems to be working great for him!
That One '08/'12
I don't think McCain and Palin can beat the Democratic message this year! In our area the University crowd are very well informed. They know who they are voting for and why! I think everyone should take note. These kids are going to be the future! And I think they are speaking!
I hope the trend for Obama continues. It would be nice to see that negative personal attacks and "mistruths" do not have to be a part of a political campaign. I've always respected John McCain, but find it hard to keep up that respect in light of the tactics of his campaign.
Colin Powell was dead on right in his anaysis of this campaign!
can someone say screwed???
CZECHOSLOVAKIA LOOKS REALLY GOOD FOR MCSAME.
mccaine, you will retreat until there is norwhere to go because this thing is beyond you its a wave of change and you cant stand it
My mom just convinced her 'forever Republican, tattoo wearing, long haired, harley bike riding, country talking' fiance to vote for Obama. Colorado is bluuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuue baby. Throw it in the Obama column.
The McCain pucker factor is coming into play. Can you say LandSlide for Obama 70-30
They already pulled out of Michigan, Maine, and Wisconsin.....
BYE BYE McCAIN and your boob VP
Keep giving those states up McLoser I just voted for the big O.
Good Bye Senator Mccain . You really had your chance this year but You had to pick Palin????????????????????
350 million freakin people in this country and these four idiots are the best we can come up with. PATHETIC.. McCain is to old, palin is to inexp. O is even more inexp and Biden is the biggest baffon in politics.
And you idiot posters on CNN come on here daily yepping about how your pick is gonna change the country .LOL you guy's are fallin for it again. Hopefully I will be dead before I am forced to witness the self destruction of my beloved country .
If Rick Davis truly believes Colorado is within reach, he's as out of touch as his candidate.
McCain's campaign is in an utter shambles. It's almost like watching a car accident now...
McCain has shown that you don't win a fight with low blows.
McCain will have to give up TEXAS, too. My husband and I voted early today for Barack Obama. We are both registered Repulican's.
We are so proud of Baack Obama and Joe "the Senator".
Barack Obama is going to be one of America's greatest Presidents.
mccain could still win this thing if he dropped Palin, got Romney or Huckabee and picked Donald Trump for his treasury department.
I liked Obama early, but it was Iowa that sealed it for me!
I'm a Navy Veteran, from Norfolk VA. Home of the world's greatest Navy!!
I can't wait until November 4th! Trying to turn Virginia Blue!!
Warner for VA Senate
I keep seeing folks on here saying how Obama has run the dirtiest campaign in history. Can someone please explain? I have yet to see any dirty politics towards the McCain camp from the Obama camp.
I live in PA...and I don't know a single person who is voting for McCain. If his win depends on winning PA, then it's over for him. He might as well stop campaigning now and save the money.
I hate to bring you the bad news McCain (O.K..my nose is growing as I type), but there is no way to win Colorado. There is still hope in the Senate though. Ill look into it and get back to ya.
McCain is running a divisive campaign that clearly shows he cannot run this country as a uniter. He has adopted all the Bush campaign strategies of divide and conquer campaign and will clearly be a Bush 3rd term.