TOP OF THE BALLOT THURSDAY: With whom will Charlie Crist caucus?; Giannoulias gets a hug and a nod from President Obama; Fisher holds lead in Ohio Senate race, provided he wins Tuesday's primary.

The next question for Charlie Crist

So Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is finally ready to become an independent. But a big question remains: who will Crist caucus with if he becomes a senator?

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), you’ll recall, said when he switched to running as an independent in 2006 that he would still caucus with Democrats if he won. But the choice isn’t as clear for Crist.

Lieberman had little to fear from the right, as the GOP put up only a token candidate to run against him. That made it easier for Lieberman to say he would stick with his current party if he returned to the Senate and hope some Democrats would appreciate the loyalty oath.

Crist, meanwhile, has capable opponents on both sides. He also has similar approval ratings across the political spectrum – 49-42 among Republicans, 52-37 among independents and 50-37 among Democrats, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll. Would he want to alienate anybody when he seems to have at least some appeal to all three groups?

It’s a bit of an easier call for Crist to say that he will still caucus with his current party, but will he want to do so with the way he’s been treated recently? And there seems to be little chance he would say he would caucus with Democrats, unless he really thinks he can peel away Rep. Kendrick Meek’s (D-Fla.) supporters.

By saying he would caucus with Democrats, he would really be cutting ties with the GOP. At that point, he might as well run as a Democrat.

Look for Crist to get asked this question shortly after making his announcement, if he doesn’t address it right away.

Obama-Giannoulias: a hug and a nod

President Obama on Wednesday gave subtle acknowledgement to embattled Illinois Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias (D).

Giannoulias has been struggling beneath the weight of his family bank’s problems. It folded over the weekend and has endured a series of press hits on how it conducted business. What’s more, he used to play basketball with the president when both were still in Illinois.

All that made Obama’s appearance with Giannoulias on Wednesday in Quincy, Ill., the stuff that political observers put under a microscope.

In the end, Obama hugged his old buddy and called him a “soon-to-be-senator” in his speech. It was a token gesture, but a significant one nonetheless.

That said, the embrace was more a physical one than a political one. We’ll see what kind of concrete action the White House takes on Giannoulias’s behalf.

Other updates

-A new independent poll shows Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) under 50 percent, but having little trouble with Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan (D). Dent leads 43-31.

-A new Quinnipiac poll shows Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) leading former Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) in a prospective general election matchup, 40-37, for retiring Sen. George Voinovich's (R-Ohio) Senate seat. Fisher, of course, has to get past a primary with Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner on Tuesday. No worries, though; the same Q poll showed him leading that race 41-24.

-Georgia state Rep. Austin Scott (R) may fill a key void for the NRCC by switching from the state’s governor’s race to the race against Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.). The oft-targeted Marshall had so far escaped a serious opponent this year, but Sen. Johnny Isakson’s (R-Ga.) advisers are urging Scott to make the switch.