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Crystal Ball Ratings Changes

A Commentary By Larry J. Sabato & Isaac Wood

DELAWARE- SENATE: Republicans got just the break they were hoping for in the Delaware Senate race. Republican Rep. Mike Castle will run, challenging the Vice President's son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden (D). Biden would have defeated any other Republican, but Castle is leading Biden in early polls. The Vice President has great sway, but the dynasty issue helps Castle. With the placeholder senator, Biden disciple Ted Kaufman, serving until 2010, a Castle win would cause the seat to switch party columns, so expect massive spending on both sides for this small-state seat. It will be a classic test of the 2010 mood. If the year clearly tilts Republican, Castle will win. If 2010 turns out to be a standoff with only modest Republican gains, it's Biden in this solid Blue state. The early betting line from the Crystal Ball is slightly in favor of Castle , but this is a race that could wobble over the next year. Vice President Biden isn't about to see his son denied his old seat, and while he cannot ride Amtrak anymore, the V-POTUS may be traveling to the First State practically daily again.

DELAWARE-AT LARGE HOUSE: Politics is often a zero-sum game. Someone's gain is someone else's loss. Nowhere is this more true than in Delaware, where Castle's ballyhooed bid for the Senate will be a giant setback for GOP hopes of holding the state's lone House seat. Castle first won the seat in 1992 and has returned to the House with double-digit margins every election since. Suffice it to say that the Republican candidate in 2010 will not have that luxury. Delaware is a Blue state, as John Kerry won a 7 percent victory in 2004 and Barack Obama trounced John McCain by a whopping 25 percent in the 2008 presidential race. While the GOP has a bevy of state legislators and other prominent potential candidates to choose from, Democrats already have their man: former Lieutenant Governor John Carney. Carney is an ideal candidate for Democrats, and given the state's Blue hue, the Crystal Ball rates DE-AL as "Leans Democratic."

FLORIDA-08: It used to be that new congressmen would keep their heads down for a few terms and wait until they were more entrenched in their district before playing the role of attack dog. Alan Grayson, fresh off his first election in 2008, clearly does not play by those rules. Grayson, a freshman Democrat in a marginal (at best) district, made headlines for his speech on the floor of the House in which he said the Republican health care plan was: "Die quickly if you get sick." When he took to the floor later to 'apologize,' he then called the health care crisis a "holocaust," drawing further rebuke. This is a giant boon to Republicans in Florida's Eighth District. Eventually, it may result in the Crystal Ball's tilting the contest to the GOP. But for now, Republicans have not yet found a strong candidate to oppose Grayson and the Crystal Ball rating moves only to "Toss-up."

SOUTH CAROLINA-02: Just a short month ago, who would have thought Joe Wilson would become a household name? Four weeks and one utterance of "You lie!" later, the four-term Republican congressman is locked in a tough reelection race that has garnered nationwide attention. Since the outburst, Wilson has become a hero of the right and one of the left's most despised villains. As a result, he and his opponent, 2008 challenger and former Marine Corps captain Rob Miller, have raised about $2 million apiece, a staggering sum considering that these two candidates combined did not raise $2 million during their 2008 matchup. The 2008 race was a surprisingly close one, with Wilson winning a narrow 54 percent victory, the same proportion of the vote that Republican presidential nominee John McCain garnered in the district. In many districts across the country, Wilson's shout would have been the death knell for his reelection, but South Carolina's Second district is decidedly conservative and many voters appear to agree with Wilson's message, if not his method of delivery. With over a year left in the campaign, it is also still unclear how Miller will handle his new, higher-profile role as nationally known challenger. Taking all of this into account, the Crystal Ball now rates SC-02 as a competitive "Leans Republican" race. Along with everyone else, we'll keep a close eye on it.

Larry J. Sabato is the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

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