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Big States Set to Host Hottest Contests Next Year

It is impossible to predict what the national political environment will be next year, but a handful of battleground states are guaranteed to be a hotbed of activity.

Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, California and New York have the most overlap in terms of competitive elections on the state and federal levels. All of the states are relatively large, and the gubernatorial and Senate races there are expected to be very expensive.

The following are the top five states that appear to be the political epicenter of the 2010 elections.

1. Ohio

Up and down the ballot, the Buckeye State is shaping up to be the hottest battleground in the country. Gov. Ted Strickland (D) is running for re-election in difficult economic times. Strickland’s race against Fox News Channel host John Kasich (R), an ex-Congressman, could be a bellwether for whether voters blame the governor and the Democrats for the economic hardship or continue to blame Republicans and former President George W. Bush.

Republicans are playing offense in the gubernatorial race, but the party has to defend the seat of retiring Sen. George Voinovich. Democrats like their chances against former Rep. Rob Portman, the likely GOP nominee, because he worked in the Bush administration. But first, Democrats have to sort out their primary between Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.

On the Congressional level, Republicans are hoping to take back the 1st and 15th districts, represented by freshman Reps. Steve Driehaus (D) and Mary Jo Kilroy (D). Former Rep. Steve Chabot (R) and state Sen. Steve Stivers (R) are seeking to avenge their losses last cycle. Democrats will take their biennial shot at trying to defeat Rep. Jean Schmidt (R), and Republicans will try to finally land a top recruit against Rep. Zack Space (D), but both races start as long shots for each party.

In addition, Ohio’s other statewide offices are up for election and competitive. Winning those may prove to be the most critical for each party because the state’s redistricting commission — made up of the governor, auditor, secretary of state and one member of each party from the legislature — will draw new state Legislative district lines after 2010.

2. Pennsylvania

Over the past four years, Republicans have lost both Senate seats and five House seats in the Keystone State. But history is on their side as they seek to win back the governorship in 2010.

Republicans lost the second Senate seat recently when Sen. Arlen Specter defected to the Democratic Party. It looks like he’ll face Rep. Joe Sestak in the Democratic primary. But regardless of who wins that battle, the Democratic nominee will start with the advantage over former Rep. Pat Toomey, the likely Republican nominee in a state that is growing more Democratic.

The outlook is brighter for Republicans in the gubernatorial race since voters have put the out-of-power party in control every eight years since World War II. The fields are still fluid, but Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, state Auditor General Jack Wagner and wealthy businessman Tom Knox are battling on the Democratic side, while Attorney General Tom Corbett and former U.S. attorney Pat Meehan are jockeying on the Republican side.

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