WASHINGTON — With 11 weeks to the start of the Democratic convention — and the GOP event just days later — the parties' presumed presidential candidates, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, have a lot to worry about:
The electoral map
This campaign, like the last two, will focus on about 15 competitive states. Both parties see the other states as reliably in their camps and not needing attention, or totally out of reach and not worth the effort and expense of trying to win them.
Obama must claim one or more of the 31 states won by President Bush in 2004, while losing few, if any, of the ones Al Gore and John Kerry won in their narrow losses to Bush.
The magic number is 18. That's how many electoral votes Obama must add to Kerry's 252, from four years ago, to secure the presidency. Carrying Iowa (seven electoral votes) and Missouri (11) would do it.
Should McCain carry every state Bush won in 2004 except Nevada, New Mexico and Iowa — a plausible outcome — he and Obama would each have 269 electoral votes. The House of Representatives would break the tie, with each state delegation having one vote. Obama almost surely would be named president.
Obama first must decide whether to tap Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has legions of fans who want her on the ticket.
Other possibilities include four other vanquished presidential rivals: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, and Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware, and Chris Dodd of Connecticut. Former Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia is often mentioned, as are two prominent female supporters of Obama: Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
McCain is likely to look at Republican Govs. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Charlie Crist of Florida, two battleground states. Other possibilities include former Massachusetts governor and presidential rival Mitt Romney.
Define the opponent
Pollsters say the average person still knows relatively little about Obama or McCain. Both men and their allies will race to fill in the blanks with appealing portraits of themselves and unflattering pictures of the other.
Obama's theme is "change," and he constantly says McCain would carry out "a third term" of President Bush, whose approval ratings approach historic lows. McCain portrays Obama as inexperienced, naive and more talk than action.
Youth and age will be a key subtext. Obama does not directly allude to McCain's age, which will hit 72 on the eve of the GOP convention. But their age difference, 25 years, is the largest in history for major party nominees. Obama must show he's mature and ready; McCain must show he's sharp and vigorous.
Obama has assembled an unprecedented political fundraising machine, raking in $264-million in 16 months. McCain has raised $115-million in 17 months. McCain, assured of his eventual nomination, had his best fundraising month in May, raising $21.5-million. Obama, reeling from controversies over his former pastor and still battling Clinton, raised nearly $32-million in April.
McCain is preparing to accept about $85-million in public financing. Obama is expected to turn down the hefty check and rely on private donors to finance his run.