Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s 2010 Emmy coverage. Here’s his scorecard assessing the Outstanding Lead Drama Series Actress race:

GLENN CLOSE, DAMAGES

Why She Got Nominated: If the TV Academy voters hadn’t nominated Glenn Close in this race, they might as well have called off the Emmys. She’s still the gold standard for actresses on TV. Her episode submitted for consideration, “Your Secrets Are Safe”, was the first of this past season and aired back in January. But that’s what screeners are for.

Why She Has To Win: This is Close’s 13th Emmy nomination. She’s won 3, including two in a row in this category. Close’s reputation precedes her: it’s tough to find anyone who can say anything even remotely negative about her. That goes a long way in contests of this sort. It also helps that she hasn’t lost a step in her performance. “Voting for Glenn Close, you never feel like you’re settling,” one actor says.

Why She Can’t Possibly Win: Three-peating is never easy. Things like professional jealousy come into play, as does increased competition. Close also has to fight the “been there, done that” vibe of the multiple winner. Lastly, the fact her ratings-challenged show could no longer cut it on FX and is now moving to DirecTV may hurt.

JULIANNA MARGULIES, THE GOOD WIFE

Myrna
4 years
Mariska Hargitay FTW!! That is all I am going to say because I honestly believe that she...
Melissa
4 years
I love Mariska Hargitay! In my opinion- she is the best actress ever! I really hope she...
4 years
Britton should win, but they'll give it to Julianna, who is the heart of one of the...

Why She Got Nominated: Margulies gave the most high-profile performance of any lead actress in a freshman drama, CBS pulled out all the stops publicity-wise for her and the show, and the TV Academy has a obvious soft spot for this actress as evidenced by her career 7 Emmy noms.

Why She Has To Win: She’s already won the SAG Award and a statuette from the Television Critics Association. The table seems set for Margulies to make it a clean sweep at the Emmys, though as she’s pointed out herself, she’s won only once in 6 previous tries (in 1995 for her work on the first season of ER). “She’s the one to beat this time,” believes a fellow actor and TV Academy member. Airing on a broadcast network doesn’t hurt, either.

Why She Can’t Possibly Win: A contingent of critics have found her performance to be overly subtle and one-note. And in Glenn Close, Margulies has a formidable competitor whom the TV Academy already has embraced repeatedly. Expect this race to be a nail-biter.

JANUARY JONES, MAD MEN

Why She Got Nominated: She enjoyed a season of terrific scripts and storylines on Mad Men that supplied Jones increased street cred with Tv Academy voters. As one producer gushes, “The prevailing view is that January really came into her own this year.”

Why She Has To Win: If there is a wave of momentum that carries Jon Hamm, John Slattery, and Elizabeth Moss or Christina Hendricks into the winner’s circle, Jones could well get swept along. It should help that her show is airing its current season right now during the voting period.

Why She Can’t Possibly Win: There’s the constant complaint about Mad Men’s threadbare ratings on AMC.  Her own body of work outside the show is thin compared to the rich resumes of her rivals. No actor/actress from the show has yet won. And Jones took a big risk this time by entering for Emmy consideration as a lead. It landed her a first-time nomination, but beyond that, she’s entered a minefield.

KYRA SEDGWICK, THE CLOSER

Why She Got Nominated: Sedgwick is a nomination machine: 5 consecutive years for the Emmy and the SAG Award.

Why She Has To Win: If ever an actress was due, it’s Sedgwick. Her first few years on TNT’s The Closer, she was a heavy favorite. Also, it’s not lost of the TV Academy that ratings put her series at the top among cable originals. “There’s no more consistently fine performance by an actress on TV week in and week out than Kyra Sedgwick’s,” a producer stresses. She could benefit from the fact her series is airing originals during the judging period. And she’s a beloved figure on set to hear those below the line tell it.

Why She Can’t Possibly Win: Her nominated episode, “Maternal Instincts”, starring her real-life daughter Sosie, premiered a year ago. That’s a lifetime ago in TV terms even with screeners. The competition now is fierce. Sedgwick’s window of opportunity could well have closed.

CONNIE BRITTON, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

Why She Got Nominated: Britton’s first Emmy nomination is the result of past performance quality and recent word of mouth considering Friday Night Lights runs first on DirecTV, and six months later on NBC. It’s a somewhat astonishing accomplishment for that reason alone.

Why She Has To Win: NBC was showing the series’ new season during the voting period. Long known as primetime’s most underappreciated series, Britton could benefit from a groundswell of support for the show’s perseverance and quality. Her acting chops are solid and unquestioned.

Why She Can’t Possibly Win: Really? You think an actress on a series whose originals run first on a satcaster has a decent shot? Only in an alternate universe. The Friday Night Lights ratings make Mad Men‘s look like American Idol‘s.

MARISKA HARGITAY, LAW & ORDER: SVU

Why She Got Nominated: It may now be part of the TV Academy bylaws that Hargitay be nominated every year she’s eligible, this being her 7th straight for NBC’s SVU. She’s a serious actress in a serious role in a serious show: that means Emmy nods.

Why She Has To Win: She won once before, and voters may want to give the trophy to someone on a broadcast network show – and, if Margulies falters, Hargitay is the only way to go. It’s one scenario, anyway.

Why She Can’t Possibly Win: This would be among the biggest upsets in Emmy awards history considering the competition. Plus, most people don’t even know she’s nominated since NBC, Universal Media Studio, and Wolf Films have spent roughly zero on promoting her candidacy. Maybe even the bigwigs sense there may be an NBC boycott at this year’s Emmys.