Top 10 U.S. Senate Races of 2006

10. Rhode Island

Lincoln Chafee, easily one of the most liberal Republicans in the Senate, faces a determined primary challenge from Cranston Mayor Steven Laffey, who is more conservative. The Democratic nominee is likely to be former State Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse.

9. Michigan

Arch-liberal Debbie Stabenow was the closest winner among new Democratic senators elected in 2000. At a time when Michigan GOPers are on a political roll under State Chairman Saul Anuzis, she will face a strong challenge from either of the potential Republican candidates—Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard or former Detroit City Councilman Keith Butler, an articulate black conservative.

8. Tennessee

With Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist retiring, Democrats are going all out for Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., their 1996 national convention keynoter and one of the most high-profile black Democratic office-holders. The GOP primary to succeed Frist features three strong contenders: former Rep. Van Hilleary; former Rep. and Clinton impeachment manager Ed Bryant; and former State Party Chairman Bob Coker, who has vast personal resources to spend on his campaign.

7. Florida

Conservative Rep. Katherine Harris, who as secretary of state in 2000 certified Florida’s electoral votes for George W. Bush and thus helped make him President, is the certain GOP challenger to moderate Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. National Republicans fear Harris will stir up Democratic anger around the country, but she enjoys heroine status among her state’s grassroots GOP activists.

6. Arizona

Two-term GOP Sen. Jon Kyl faces a well-funded challenge from multi-millionaire developer and State Democratic Chairman Jim Pedersen, who is credited with rebuilding the state party with his personal wealth.

5. Missouri

Freshman Republican Sen. Jim Talent, a strong conservative, narrowly won an ’02 special election over the widow of the late Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan. Polls show Talent in a neck-and-neck battle this year against liberal Democrat Claire McCaskill, the former state auditor who lost the governorship in a squeaker in ’04.

4. Montana

Republican Sen. Conrad Burns, who survived a close call in 2000, has given back more than $150,000 in donations generated by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Latest polls show an increasingly close race against the Democratic candidate, State Auditor John Morrison.

3. Minnesota

The seat Sen. Mark Dayton (D.) is relinquishing is perhaps the GOP’s best chance of a net gain in the Senate anywhere. In a state gradually turning “red,” conservative Rep. Mark Kennedy has wrapped up the GOP nomination, while four lesser-known Democrats are vying for their party’s nod to succeed Dayton.

2. Maryland

Rep. Ben Cardin and former NAACP head Kweisi Mfume are waging a fierce battle for the Democratic nomination to succeed retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D.). Their infighting could help Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele become the second black GOP senator in the nation since Reconstruction. A Rasmussen poll shows pro-lifer Steele slightly leading both Cardin and Mfume.

1. Pennsylvania

Easily the showcase race for conservatives throughout the nation. Two-term Sen. Rick Santorum (R.), outspoken on abortion and conservative on most issues, faces Democrat Bob Casey, Jr., former state auditor and son of a popular former governor. Casey’s name and own pro-life stance have put him ahead of Santorum in most polls, but the senator has bounced back and won before.