(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.
They better rethink their strategy. There is no way for them to get to 270 without Colorado.
Counting on Pennsylvania is a dumb strategy. The polls there have Obama up by 10 points and in some cases higher.
This just goes to show how erratic the McCain campaign has been. I'm still dumbfounded how people are willing to vote for him given the fact that his campaign has been so horribly run.
McCain says he is a fighter but as soon as his money get low in a state he runs away when the race is close!
Oregon has vote-by-mail. I voted for Obama and dropped my ballot off this morning at the elections office...I was so excited to participate that I just couldn't wait for the postal service!
If you have early voting, or if you're in Oregon, please VOTE NOW! It could make a very big difference.
Obama/Biden: strong leadership, good character, lots of experience
Geogia is going for McCain...the country of Georgia that is. His lobbyist pal there has a nice opportunity for him...bombing missions in Ossetia to start World War III. Go McWar!
McCain will be lucky, if he carries Arizonia!
You know what? The bias of the media is incredible. Here, on CNN, it's all "doom and gloom" for McCain. Over on Fox it's all about McCain gaining in the polls and Obama's endorsement of the Ayers' book. We have become such a polarized electorate it's amazing. And I'm guilty myself...truly growing to despise liberals and dismiss them as "enemies". I'm sure it works the other way as well. Will we all ever be Americans again, or are those days behind us?
With red states North Dakota, West Virginia and Montana tightening... How can Mccain possibly win this election?
This is gonna be a landslide for OBAMA!
I'm a conservative roman catholic who will support a democrat this election!
Don't fall for it, Pennsylvania! Don't be swayed by the Circular-Talk Express. PLEASE!
For some reason, Palin keeps coming back to Colorado. Get her the hell out of here. Send her back to Alaska to stand trial or something. Go Blue, Go Colorado, Go Obama!!!
If nothing else, Obama's impressive management of his Presidential campaign is strong evidence of his ability to lead a large, complex, and challenging operation.
Contrast this with the struggles we've seen in the McCain campaign just to be organized and clear about their goals, and I believe the choice for President based on who is better able to lead is clear.
Don't get complacent Obama supporters!! You must VOTE!!!!
dont get cocky, party when its nov 5 not now.
Having given up on running an honorable, clean campaign, the McCain camp is now pinning all its hopes that an increasingly desperate and sleazy ad campaign will give it a big win in the state of Low Road Island, with its 270 electoral votes.
Please please please make sure you vote! If you don't it could be a very RED night! Make it a new beginning with OBAMA!!!!! I am proud to be voting Democrat this year. My son is voting for the first time, and he's voting for Obama too. Our whole family is.
Does John MCcain not understand he can't win even if he wins all 6 toos up states. He has to get one or two of the leaning O'bama states to turn toward him. I don't see him even in a state that leaning O'bama.
Hey Carol, you are soooo wrong. You will always pay taxes no matter who is running the show. If you make under 250K you will see a reduction in taxes. Do you get it? Go ahead keep listening to the manure coming from McCain and Palin, and you will have another 4 years to add to the last 8! The economy is a mess is largely due to Bush and no one on the late watch for this. No Babysitters while the Wall Street kids were burning down the house. So much for MCCAin cutting spending, isn't that what Bush did? So tell me Carol, are you better off now?
The McCain camp sent a donation request to a Russian politician. They actually asked him to contribute $5000. Maybe it's the McCain campaign that needs to be investigated for requesting illegal donations. How many have they actually accepted?
CNN Dana BAsh just reported that Mccain/Palin are about to start using Jeremiah Wright as the new name to create doubt about Obama – well Mccain is Obama a Muslim , how will you tell your supporters about Wright – isn't he a Christian? What exactly is your strategy – grabbing at straws? Tell us about the real issues – we're tired of the mud slinging.
Is going to be figuring out how to win with 270 electoral votes.
There's a lead in the polls, but until poll numbers turn into ACTUAL numbers then you can't let up. Make sure you get out and VOTE!
I can't believe that people are so gullible as to buy into the Obama mythology that this guy gives a crap about anything except securing the keys to the Oval Office. Obama has done absoultely next to nothing to earn the White House except parade around spewings things people want to hear while placing a presidential seal on a lecturn and standing behind it! What kind of narcissist does something like this? It's all about ObaME
The McCain campaign can say "Gone" to all of the toss up states and even some of the red states that they thought they had.
Can John McCain spell, L A N D S L I D E ?
If McCain earlier says he loves being the underdog, he must be delighted at this news!
If, Heaven forbid, McSame pulls it off, I'd advise CNN watchers to start learning Chinese, because before 4 more years of Bush/McCain deficit spending are up, China will own the US.
Now that I think of it, McCain didn't specify _which_ country he was putting first.
CNN: Publish this! The tone is flippant but the issue is important.
They might want to let Palin in on the fact that Colorado is "gone. She is fighting for it hard just a few articles down.