The closing chapter of the 2012 presidential race will be written in just a handful of states, as the candidates launch a feverish blitz of the battlegrounds that will determine who takes the oath of office come Inauguration Day.
The residents of those states, for two weeks, will be barraged by ads and campaign stops by the candidates and their surrogates. After the final presidential debate -- which amounted to the candidates' last chance to make their pitch before a broad national audience -- the campaigns bolted immediately to those battlegrounds.
First on the list for the Obama campaign were Florida and Ohio.
At a stop in Delray Beach, Fla., Obama fired up the crowd with an assault on Romney's foreign policy -- which he again called "all over the map" -- and a Jeff Foxworthy-style routine in which he repeated the refrain "you might have Romnesia" if ...
That's Obama's term for the charge that Romney has forgotten what his own positions have been on the issues. "Don't worry," Obama quipped. "ObamaCare covers preexisting conditions. We can fix you up. We can cure this disease."
For Romney and running mate Paul Ryan, the first post-debate stops are Nevada and Colorado.
Setting the tone, Romney's campaign released a TV ad Tuesday morning hammering the president's so-called "apology tour" overseas in 2009. It includes the line: "You went to the Middle East and you flew to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to Turkey and Iraq. And ... you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region."
All four of the states hit by the campaigns Tuesday are considered toss-ups on Nov. 6.
No matter who wins, it appears highly unlikely that Obama will get anywhere close to the 365 electoral votes he won in 2008. It takes 270 to clinch the presidency, and this year's contest could be historically close judging by recent polls.
For months, the electoral map has appeared to favor the president, with more states considered safe Democratic territory than safe Republican territory. But Romney's surge in the polls has changed the map. The Associated Press estimates that Obama is likely to win at least 237 electoral votes to Romney's 191, with 110 electoral votes up for grabs.
By contrast, the RealClearPolitics map last week gave Romney the advantage for the first time. The latest projection shows Romney with 206 likely electoral votes, and Obama with 201. Their map shows 131 electoral votes up for grabs across 10 states.
It's no accident that those 10 states are largely on the itinerary -- repeatedly -- of both campaigns for the next two weeks. They include the four states the campaigns were hitting Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the schedule gets even more chaotic for the Obama campaign, with the president setting out on a two-day, six-state blitz. He'll hit Iowa, Colorado and California on Wednesday, followed by Florida, Virginia and Ohio
The campaigns are, naturally, using their running mates to cover more ground.
While Romney hits Nevada and Iowa on Wednesday, Ryan will make a swing through Ohio.
Each campaign has its own variations on a path to 270 electoral votes -- but Ohio, Florida and Virginia are considered among the most important. Florida is the biggest, with 29 electoral votes. Ohio has 18 and Virginia has 13 -- Obama won all three in 2008.
Recent polling in Ohio shows Obama either up by a hair, or tied with Romney. In Florida, Romney seems to have the edge. Virginia is a dead heat.
But states like Iowa, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire are also vital. North Carolina, a state Obama won in 2008 and where the Democrats held their convention this year, has long since trended toward Romney and is considered by some analysts a likely pick-up for Romney next month.