DELRAY BEACH, Fla. -- With debates out of the way, Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama are blitzing a handful of battleground states as their campaigns are putting enormous energy into turning out early votes.
On Tuesday, Romney, Obama and their running mates, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Vice President Joe Biden, stumped in the states that are toss-ups in their quest for 270 electoral votes needed to claim the White House.
National polls show Romney and Obama are in a dead heat. But it's not a national election anymore.
It's intense combat in mainly seven battleground states to win at least 50.1 percent in order to claim the states' electoral votes.
Both campaigns and their allies are flooding the battlegrounds with ads -- and putting enormous effort into what is known as GOTV, getting out the vote, with a mega-effort to lock in supporters early by getting them to take advantage of early voting.
"Now, two weeks from today, Americans in all 50 states will step into the voting booth, but here in Florida, you get to start voting on Saturday," Obama told a crowd of 11,000 at the Delray Beach Tennis Center on Tuesday morning before moving on to another battleground, Ohio.
Early voting started in Ohio on Oct. 2; in Dayton, where Obama was joined by Biden later on Tuesday, the president reminded the crowd, "here in Ohio, you can vote early. Here in Ohio, you can vote right after this event. If you want to know where to vote, you go to vote.barackobama.com."
In Henderson, Nev., a suburb of Las Vegas, Ryan, introducing Romney, urged, "Hey, don't forget, early voting already started. You can get out there; you can cast your vote. We need your help."
Romney repeated the message. "I want you to make sure to begin voting. Early voting has already started. Vote. Get out there. We want you to start voting right now."
The ground game for both campaigns -- in the broadest strokes -- at essence has the same goal. As Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a Tuesday briefing call with reporters, "If you think about what we're doing on the ground the next 14 days, it's quite simple. We have two jobs: one, to persuade the undecideds, and two, to turn our voters out."
". . . Every single day now is Election Day, and voters in Iowa, in Nevada, in Wisconsin, in Ohio are voting every day and they're voting for Barack Obama."
Romney strategist Kevin Madden said they were in great shape with the early vote. "The level of enthusiasm we have right now is outpacing theirs," he told me. ". . . It's a crucial two-week stage with early voting going on, and people are really getting to the point where they are making up their minds."
Early voting is seen as so important that Obama, in a 48-hour, two-day battleground state blitz, will touch down in Chicago on Thursday to make history by being the first president to cast an early ballot.
Obama on Wednesday sprints through Iowa, Colorado and Nevada, darting over to solid Democratic California for two hours and 20 minutes to tape Jay Leno's "Tonight Show."
On Thursday, Obama returns to Florida, touches down in Virginia and rushes over to Chicago for a few hours in order to throw a spotlight on the importance of the early vote, and ends up back in Ohio.
Romney is circling through those states as well.
The best way to know what the campaigns know when it comes to battlegrounds as it gets closer to Election Day is to see where Romney, Obama, Ryan and Biden travel and where the campaigns send key surrogates.
Everyone I talked to agreed: Ohio, with 18 electoral votes, is emerging as the place where the fight will be most fierce, followed by Florida, with 29 votes and Virginia, 13. The others are New Hampshire with 4; Wisconsin, 10; Iowa, 6, and Nevada, 6.
The RealClearPolitics map analysis Tuesday gives Obama 201 electoral votes to 206 for Romney, with 131 votes up for grabs.
When I talked with Obama White House senior adviser David Plouffe on Monday in Boca Raton after the debate, I asked him if he had a top tier of battlegrounds.
Said Plouffe, "I can't do that. They are like children. They are all special and we think we can win them all."