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First Read's Top 10 States to Watch

If it's Friday, it means another First Read Top 10 list. This time, we look at the Top 10 states to watch in 2010 -- based on the number of good races, and also what they might tell us about the overall political environment and the emerging 2012 race. The number in parentheses is our last ranking from February.

1. Florida (3): This swing state probably best tells the story of 2010. It has competitive Senate, House and gubernatorial races; it now features two competitive statewide primaries (McCollum vs. Scott, and Meek vs. Greene); it tests the strength and perhaps weakness of the Tea Party (will Rubio win?); and it will measure the appeal of an independent candidate (Crist).
2. Colorado (2): This state has it all, too -- presidential swing state, competitive Dem Senate primary (Bennet vs. Romanoff), and an establishment vs. anti-establishment GOP Senate primary (Norton vs. Buck). And now there’s a plagiarism scandal that is throwing the gubernatorial race into chaos.
3. Ohio (1): Having Ohio third on this list tells you how many great state-based stories there are this midterm cycle. As in Florida and Colorado, the Buckeye State features competitive Senate, House, and gubernatorial races. And, of course, it’s probably the nation’s premiere presidential battleground state.
4. Nevada (5): The contests in this western swing state will tell us: 1) Will Harry Reid go the way of Tom Daschle? 2) Can Sharron Angle win in a state that Obama won by more than 12 percentage points? 3) Can two Reids (Harry and Rory) co-exist on the Dem ballot? and 4) Will the GOP get a Latino governor in Brian Sandoval?
5. California (10): In presidential contests, California is often an afterthought. But that’s not the case in midterms, and the state this year features a competitive gubernatorial race (Brown vs. Whitman), a competitive Senate contest (Boxer vs. Fiorina), and money -- lots of it.
6. Pennsylvania (8): Here’s another state with a key Senate contest (Sestak vs. Toomey), a gubernatorial race (Corbett vs. Onorato), and a few competitive House match-ups. What’s more, President Obama’s approval ratings have plummeted in this state that he won by 10 percentage points. According to Quinnipiac, his approval rating is now upside down at 46%-49%.
7. Illinois (4): President Obama’s old Senate seat is up for grabs (Giannoulias vs. Kirk), and the governor’s race is a hot one (Quinn vs. Brady). And they’re taking place smack in the middle of the Blago trial.
8. Indiana (unranked): A state Obama won in 2008 looks like it’s trending back toward Republicans. But keep an eye on the race to replace Evan Bayh, which could be a sleeper for Democrats (or a pick up for Republicans). Plus, people often ask: How’s it playing in Peoria? Come 2012, they’ll be asking: How’s it playing in Elkhart?
9. Arizona (unranked): Illegal immigration -- and the battle against it -- has turned this state into a political hotbed. And the passage of Arizona’s controversial anti-illegal immigration law transformed Gov. Jan Brewer into a conservative celebrity and a possible shoo-in for victory in November. Oh, and don’t forget that one of the Republicans who led the charge for comprehensive immigration reform -- John McCain -- is up for re-election and running to the right in his GOP primary battle against J.D. Hayworth.
10. New Mexico (unranked): GOP strength in the West, as we’ve pointed out, could come because of women. And in this swing state where Hispanics outnumber any other ethnic group (44% to 42% of whites), Republicans hope gubernatorial nominee Susana Martinez will beat out Lt. Gov. Diane Denish (D) in the race to replace term-limited Gov. Bill Richardson (D). There’s also a highly competitive House race in which former Rep. Steve Pearce (R) is hoping to get his old seat back from freshman Rep. Harry Teague (D).