It's a riveting race for political junkies, who liken it to both a barroom brawl and a bellwether for conservative politics. Popular Gov. Charlie Crist was once considered the clear front-runner for both the Republican nomination and the general election. But conservatives incensed at, among other things, Crist's literal and figurative embrace of the Obama stimulus plan lined up behind Marco Rubio, a former state house speaker. The fact that Rubio is caught up in a federal financial fraud investigation surrounding the use of state party credit cards to wine and dine big donors hasn't put much of a dent in his campaign. Typical of the anti-Crist criticism was former Vice President Dick Cheney, who endorsed Rubio in April, warning that Crist "cannot be trusted in Washington to take on the Obama agenda"—or, Cheney added, "even to remain a Republican." Indeed, Crist's late-April announcement that he plans to make an independent bid for the seat is no idle threat. Polls show him leading a three-way race with Rubio and presumed Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek. And with $7.6 million in the bank, he had almost as much money at the end of March, when the most recent campaign funding figures were released, as his two rivals combined (Rubio had $3.9 million and Meek $3.8 million). While GOP officials warned that Crist's financial and political support would quickly dry up, Democrats relish the opportunity to split Republican voters in November. Meek, who represents Miami, is a likely lock for his party nomination, though he faces primary bids from former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre and billionaire investor Jeff Greene. But Meek, a former state trooper, is not widely known throughout Florida. He got a boost from a Bill Clinton endorsement, but a recent poll showed that 6 in 10 Floridians report that they don't know enough about Meek to vote for him.
2008 • Obama 62% • McCain 37%
The Democrats' chances of holding Obama's old seat are marred by tricky allegations surrounding the failure of Broadway Bank, which was controlled by the family of nominee Alexi Giannoulias. While the 34-year-old state treasurer had acknowledged that the financial institution was likely to fail, he placed the blame on the bad economy rather than bad management. Still, Giannoulias pronounced it "devastating" the day federal regulators took over the bank in April. Rep. Mark Kirk, the Republican nominee and a Navy reservist, has seized the chance to tap into voter frustration over the bailouts of big Wall Street banks. This has prompted frustration in the Giannoulias camp. "Just about every sentence that Congressman Kirk utters these days is a noun, a verb, and Broadway Bank," Giannoulias quipped. Democrats remain strongly behind Giannoulias, but Kirk is a tough contender—even though, says Larry Sabato, the University of Virginia political scientist and editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball newsletter, he can't decide whether he's a moderate or a conservative.
2008 • Obama 55% • McCain 43%
The possibility that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could be cast out of office by voters—who would voluntarily give up the federal largesse that comes with having a powerful, long-serving legislator—is a sobering one for Democrats. "It reveals the intensity of feeling in many places about spending, taxes, and debt," Sabato says. Polls show Reid trailing casino owner and former state Republican Party Chairwoman Sue Lowden as well as businessman Danny Tarkanian (the son of well-known former University of Nevada, Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian). Lowden, Tarkanian, and conservative former state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle are the front-runners in a crowded Republican field for the June 8 primary. But Reid is aiming to raise at least $25 million, which would break state records (he had pulled in more than $16 million at the end of March, and still had $10 million on hand). Lowden raised roughly $2.1 million (she donated more than $700,000 of it herself) and Tarkanian had drummed up $1.1 million (including $32,000 of his own money), though each GOP-er had less than $300,000 left in the bank. Republicans are particularly concerned about possible third-party candidates siphoning off votes from their eventual nominee. Regardless of who he faces, Reid remains confident. "If the election were held today, I'd win," he told a Nevada newspaper in April. With Latino voters an increasingly important voting bloc in the state, immigration reform looms as a potentially critical issue. Reid is vowing to tackle immigration legislation, but whether he can actually get a bill through Congress remains unclear. For their part, Democratic insiders say that Latino voters may prove less concerned with whether Reid actually manages to pass legislation than with his willingness to take it on. [See where Harry Reid gets all of his campaign money.]
Corrected on 6/9/10: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the date of North Dakota's Republican primary.