Who: Tom Coburn (R) vs. Brad Carson (D)
Why: This is the priority for HIVers—not because Carson, a neophyte on AIDS, is any good, but because Coburn is so darn bad. A doctor, evangelical Christian and cochair of Bush’s AIDS advisory panel, Coburn has long led the GOP on HIV issues. Although during his three terms in the House he teamed with AIDS advocates to increase Ryan White funding, he voted against virtually every other federal spending bill. Worse, his war on condoms, needle exchange and the “homosexual agenda” have made him HIVers’ public enemy No. 1.
Odds: Despite Carson’s conservative record, the Dems will have trouble winning in this staunchly Republican state.
Where: South Dakota
Who: Tom Daschle (D) vs. John Thune (R)
Why: The Dems’ Senate leader, Daschle has been a strong advocate for AIDS funding and a sharp critic of Bush for spending “too little too late.” His defeat would be a body blow to Democrats, not only diminishing their clout but possibly forcing their choice of a new leader less supportive of HIVers. Bush’s political commissar Karl Rove talked a reluctant Thune into the race, and the GOPer would be a creature of the Bush White House.
Odds: The closest Senate race in the country.
Who: Arlen Specter (R) vs. Joe Hoeffel (D)
Why: Hoeffel, a solid liberal, is facing off against four-term Specter who—despite his exaggerated rep as a GOP “moderate”—is now in Bush’s pocket after Bush campaigned for him during the primary. However, as a longtime Appropriations Committee member, Specter has an adequate record on HIV and the power to make things happen in a Republican-led Senate. But because Hoeffel’s AIDS positions are more progressive—especially regarding condoms and clean needles—the Dem would be better for HIVers.
Odds: Pennsylvania’s sick economy gives Hoeffel a shot, especially if Bush loses this battleground state.
Who: Mel Martinez (R) vs. Betty Castor (D)
Why: The White House recruited Martinez, Dubya’s former secretary of housing and urban development, for the race. In the primary, he ran as the Christian right’s candidate, and many fear that his outspoken homophobia and antiscience bias are a telltale prelude to AIDS-phobic tendencies.
Odds: A gender gap in her favor may give Castor, a former university president and ex–state education commissioner, a leg up, but Martinez has an edge with the sizable Hispanic vote—making the race in this swing state too close to call.
Who: Peter Coors (R) vs. Ken Salazar (D)
Why: Scion of the famous brewery family that has long bankrolled evangelical Christian causes, Coors ran far right to win his primary. Progressive as state attorney general, Salazar could become the Senate’s first Hispanic member.
Odds: Salazar is more popular than his foot-in-mouth opponent, but super-rich Coors will spend whatever it takes. A toss-up.