Republicans hope voters’ fears about jobs and the economy will help them reclaim a handful of Mountain West and Southern states that were crucial to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential win.

Obama’s campaign appears just as determined to hold those states next year and force Republicans to spend precious resources defending places they’d like to consider safe.

Every four years, political operatives fixate on the dozen or so states that always decide close presidential elections.

This time, Obama hopes to play on as big an Electoral College map as possible, and his team insists it will compete for the first time in traditionally solid Republican states like Georgia and Arizona. Republicans, conversely, want a compact map, hoping for wins in big, always-contested states such as Florida and Ohio, which were key to George W. Bush’s victories in 2000 and 2004.

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