The Midwest

Running in a long shadow, and a dark one

The state that launched Barack Obama's political career is no Democratic redoubt in 2010.

Disgraced former governor Rod Blagojevich has cast a shadow over the entire Democratic ticket. One potential victim: Gov. Pat Quinn, the former lieutenant governor who stepped up after Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office, and who has grappled with a fiscal crisis billed as the worst in state history. Quinn's GOP challenger is state Sen. Bill Brady; the two have sparred over taxes and spending cuts.

The Illinois Senate race is one of this election year's nastiest brawls, pitting Democratic state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (right) against Republican Rep. Mark Kirk. Both candidates carry heavy baggage. Giannoulias, an Obama friend, has struggled to distance himself from the collapse of his family's Broadway Bank. Kirk, a moderate once viewed as the clear favorite, was forced to explain a series of resume embellishments about his work experience and military service. This contest is a dead heat.

The anti-Democratic tide could sweep out three incumbents, Reps. Bill Foster, Debbie Halvorson and Phil Hare. But there is one possible bright spot for Democrats: Dan Seals is favored to win Kirk's former House seat in the northwest Chicago suburbs against Republican businessman Robert Dold.

In Senate race, a fatal vote for health care

Democrats got the candidate they wanted, popular Rep. Brad Ellsworth, in the Senate race to replace retiring Sen. Evan Bayh (D). But Ellsworth never caught fire, even though his opponent, former Sen. Dan Coats -- who held the seat before Bayh -- has been a prominent Washington lobbyist in an outsider year. Despite Ellsworth's conservative credentials as a former Vanderburgh County sheriff, his vote for the health-care bill may have been fatal.

The state's Republican tilt also could determine the outcome in three House tossup races. In Ellsworth's 8th District, GOP cardiologist Larry Buchson faces former prosecutor Trent Van Haaften (D). In the 2nd District, Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) has a strong challenger in Jackie Walorski, a Republican state legislator with tea party support. In the 9th District, Rep. Baron P. Hill (D), who has held the seat on and off since 1998, is battling Todd Young (R), a former prosecutor.

GOP should enjoy many happy returns

The top-of-the-ticket races are all about the Republicans. Sen. Charles E. Grassley is coasting toward reelection to a sixth term. Meanwhile Terry Branstad, who served four terms as governor and wants his old job back, is heavily favored to win his comeback attempt against first-term Gov. Chet Culver (D).

In the House, Democrats may fare better. Republicans have long targeted 3rd District Rep. Leonard L. Boswell (D) and thought this was the year they could defeat him. But his opponent, Brad Zaun, has run into problems of his own, boosting Boswell's chances of hanging on again.

Two other districts have come into play. Rep. Dave Loebsack (D) was a surprise winner four years ago in the 2nd District. Republicans say they may turn the tables on him this year, but he rates a narrow favorite against Mariannette Miller-Meeks, an ophthalmologist and military veteran. In the 1st District, Rep. Bruce Braley (D) remains favored against attorney Ben Lange (R).

Voters go to the polls with economy in mind

Democratic Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm is term-limited, and it looks almost certain that Michigan's voters will elect a Republican to succeed her.

He is businessman Rick Snyder, a moderate who has campaigned on turning around Michigan's battered economy. He has enjoyed mostly smooth sailing against Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero (D).

There are three competitive House seats, starting with the 1st District in the Upper Peninsula. Rep. Bart Stupak (D) is retiring, and Republican Dan Benishek, a surgeon, is a narrow favorite over Democrat Gary McDowell, a hay farmer.

The southern 7th District is a rematch from 2008, when Rep. Mark Schauer (D) ousted the GOP incumbent, Tim Walberg. This year Walberg looks to return in a race that is too close to call.

In the 9th District in the Detroit suburbs, Rep. Gary Peters (D) is being chased by military vet-eran and former state legislator Rocky Raczkowski (R).

Seeking a player to follow Pawlenty's act

Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) is retiring to pursue a presidential run, leaving his party facing an uphill climb in the open-seat race to succeed him.

Wealthy former Sen. Mark Dayton (D) is the slight favorite in the three-way contest against state Rep. Tom Emmer (R) and Independence Party nominee Tom Horner.

In the three-way races in 2002 and 2006, Democrats grumbled that left-leaning Independence Party candidates drew votes away from the Democratic nominee, helping Pawlenty. This year, Horner, a former Republican, is drawing moderate Republicans away from Emmer and creating a pathway to victory for Dayton.

In the 1st District, Rep. Tim Walz (D) is in a competitive race against state Rep. Randy Demmer (R). And in the 8th District, long-serving Rep. James L. Oberstar (D) is expected to defeat Republican Chip Cravaack, although the GOP thinks Oberstar is vulnerable in an anti-incumbent year.

It's not a good year to be a Democrat here

Democrats had viewed the Senate seat vacated by Republican Sen. Christopher S. Bond as a pickup opportunity, with Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D), daughter of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan, challenging Rep. Roy Blunt (R). He's a former member of Tom DeLay's House leadership team and has raked in campaign cash from lobbyists. But President Obama is deeply unpopular here, and Carnahan has yet to pull within striking distance of Blunt.

Two House Democrats are on the ropes: Reps. Ike Skelton, the veteran Armed Services Committee chairman; and Russ Carnahan, brother of the Senate candidate. Skelton is a 17-term incumbent whose constituents like him, but his 94.7 percent Democratic voting record has given GOP opponent Vicky Hartzler a lethal weapon in the conservative 4th District. And despite whether Carnahan holds on in the working-class 3rd District in suburban St. Louis, the seat could be eliminated in post-2010 redistricting.

GOP places bull's-eyes on a few Buckeyes

Both national parties spent millions of dollars on the governor's race between incumbent Ted Strickland (D) and former Rep. John R. Kasich (R) -- a sign of the practical and symbolic importance of the Buckeye State contest.

With Ohio set to lose two congressional seats in redistricting next year and primed to be at the center of the 2012 presidential fight, controlling the governorship is of critical importance.

Polling suggests Kasich has a slight lead, and Democrats are pessimistic -- even though they think Strickland has done everything he can to win.

The race to replace retiring Sen. George V. Voinovich (R), once regarded as one of the nation's premier contests, has fizzled. Former Rep. Rob Portman (R) has run an outstanding race, while Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) has been a poor candidate.

There are five House seats that Republicans think they can flip Tuesday. Democratic Reps. Steve Driehaus and Mary Jo Kilroy appear almost certain to lose. Both parties are spending heavily in Ohio's 16th Dstrict, where Rep. John Boccieri (D) is trying to beat back a challenge from businessman Jim Renacci. Races in 6th and 18th districts are slightly tougher for Republicans but certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

In the Badger State, it's a Feingold rush

A sense of economic pessimism in the Badger State is helping Republicans up and down the ticket.

Sen. Russell Feingold (D), long assumed to be safe, is now in danger of losing the seat he has held for 18 years. Businessman Ron Johnson (R) snatched the outsider mantle from Feingold, and the incumbent has failed to win it back.

In the governor's race, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker (R) appears headed to a victory over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D). Democrats say that while Barrett is an able candidate, he has not been able to overcome the political winds.

Rep. Steve Kagen (D) seems headed to defeat at the hands of businessman Reid Ribble (R) in the 8th District, and the two national parties are duking it out in the 7th District, where reality TV star Sean Duffy (R) and state Sen. Julie Lassa (D) are seeking to succeed retiring Rep. David R. Obey (D). Rep. Ron Kind (D) is a longer-shot target for Republicans.

CONTRIBUTORS: The state previews were written and compiled by Washington Post staff writers Chris Cillizza, Dan Balz, Amy Gardner, Shailagh Murray, Paul Kane, Aaron Blake, Felicia Sonmez, Ben Pershing and Perry Bacon Jr. PHOTOGRAPHS: The photographs were taken by The Washington Post, Associated Press, Reuters and Getty Images photographers.

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