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Races to Watch

This year's mid-term elections give voters a choice that's dramatically different from recent contests. For much of the last decade, values and national security have played central roles in the two parties' struggle for power.

In 2010, the election focuses squarely and unequivocally on the economy—who has a job and who doesn't, whose taxes will go up and whose won't, whether the government has taken the right steps to turn around the economy and what do in 2011 to increase growth and reduce deficits.

The choice in unusually clear because a single party—Democratic—has controlled both the White House and Congress for the last two years. And that governing party has managed to push through a broad and costly agenda reaching into every significant corner of American life and business.

Democrats argue they've turned around a plummeting economy and laid the foundation for future growth; minority Republicans insist that agenda has pushed America dangerously deeper in debt without results, as evidenced by the 9.5% unemployment rate.

CNBC will track several key mid-term election contests that, in different ways, distill the dollars-and-cents dilemmas facing Americans as they choose new representatives, senators and governors this fall. Click ahead to see who is on the line and what is at stake.

More from John Harwood

Photo credit: Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images