updated 10/22/2004 3:55:53 PM ET 2004-10-22T19:55:53

The Electoral College used to be an arcane footnote to most presidential elections. In 2000, we learned that it wasn’t necessarily so. These days, it’s clear that the election for president is really 50 separate state elections. At stake are 538 electoral votes, and at least 270 are needed to win.  A handful of states that are still up for grabs.

Months ago, when the race began, George W. Bush ran strong in red states totaling 155 electoral votes, and John Kerry with the advantage in these blue states, with 168 electoral votes.

Now, after two conventions, four debates, more than $1 billion spent, and a tidal wave of TV ads— including more than 14,000 commercials in the highly-contested city of Toledo alone, here’s how things stand:  Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia – once battleground states, now have polls showing them leaning towards Bush, bringing his total to 222 electoral votes.

Maine, Michigan, Oregon, and Washington, former battlegrounds, now have polls showing John Kerry is ahead, bringing his total to 207.

What’s left are 9 battleground states, 109 electoral votes, and the key to this election.

"It's the most critical election in our lifetimes," says says Mary Matalin, former counselor to the Vice President and now advisor to the Bush-Cheney campaign. "People are collecting information before they make what is going to be a momentous choice. When you think of this, we are having to put in place the first post-Cold War national security and foreign policy policies."

On Sunday, 10 p.m. ET, join MSNBC's Chris Jansing for a special presentation on “Battleground America: Winning the White House.”

We’ll take a look at the election the way political strategists and campaign gurus do— less in terms of the over-all popular vote, and more in terms of the state-by-state battles where, like it or not, not all states (and their electoral votes) are equal. Tim Russert, Chris Matthews, and pollsters Peter Hart and Bill McInturff will also be on the show.

In the past year, Jansing has traveled all over battleground America to talk to undecided Americans in big cities and little towns, and to look at the grassroots efforts being conducted there.

"Battleground America: Winning the White House" airs Oct. 24, Sunday, 10 p.m. ET on MSNBC.

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