Plenty in play: Races to watch in 2014
The irritation voters feel today might be the six-year itch that has plagued many second-term presidents and their political parties. Or maybe it’s an itch to scratch the majority out of the U.S. House.
Early primaries in 2014 may reveal how the high-stakes midterm elections will look. Voters in November will decide majorities in the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate and 36 governorships, including Wisconsin’s.
A look at key races beyond the Badger State:
• Arkansas has an open race, with Democrat Mike Beebe leaving office. Democratic Rep. Mike Ross is running and, on the GOP side, the candidates are Rep. Asa Hutchinson, state Rep. Debra Hobbs and businessman Curtis Coleman.
• Florida is preparing for a battle between incumbent Republican Rick Scott, who is widely unpopular but has vast wealth, and Democrat Charlie Crist, who is widely popular but has some baggage. He served as governor when he was a Republican and endorsed right-wing initiatives, including an anti-gay marriage amendment. Crist has since apologized for that.
• Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, is expected to face two challengers on Election Day — Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, who came out as gay in 2013, and independent Eliot Cutler. In 2010, LePage won another three-way race because of a split Democratic vote.
• Pennsylvania has at least eight Democrats — including state Treasurer Rob McCord, Rep. Allyson Schwartz, businessman Tom Wolf and former state environmental protection official Katie McGinty — lining up to take on Republican Tom Corbett.
• Texas Gov. Rick Perry is not seeking re-election, which means the state is wide open. And there’s a historic battle shaping up. On the GOP side, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has raised more than $20 million. On the Democratic side, state Sen. Wendy Davis, who gained national fame with a 13-hour filibuster against new abortion restrictions, has the backing of EMILY’s List. And, for the first time in Texas, two women are at the top of a party ticket. Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is running for lieutenant governor.
For the Senate
Voters will elect 33 U.S. senators on Nov. 4. Democrats currently hold a 55–45 majority, but will be defending 21 seats in the fall. Still, the big story right now is the number of Republican incumbents facing primary challenges from the party’s right wing.
Georgia Republicans are scrambling to run for the Senate seat held by two-termer Saxby Chambliss. At least eight have announced for the primary, including former Secretary of State Karen Handel, who influenced Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to cut funding to Planned Parenthood. Others in the GOP primary include U.S. Reps. Paul Brown, Phil Gingrey, Jack Kingston and businessman David Perdue. The Democratic candidate will be nonprofit executive Michelle Nunn.
Kansas Republican Pat Roberts, now serving a third term, faces a primary challenge from Milton Wolf, who is attacking Roberts for initially supporting the nomination of Kathleen Sebelius as Health and Human Services Secretary. Roberts has more recently called for Sebelius to resign, but the primary may still be a battle over Obamacare involving two of the program’s opponents.
Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell, running for a sixth term, has low approval ratings and faces a primary challenge from businessman Matt Bevin. The winner faces a costly general election race against Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Mississippi Republican Thad Cochran will seek a seventh term, but before a general election he must face tea party candidate Chris McDaniel.
North Carolina Democrat Kay Hagan won her first term when the state went for Barack Obama in 2008. The state went for Mitt Romney in 2012, and now Hagan is seen as vulnerable. On the GOP side, state House Speaker Thom Tillis and the Rev. Mark Harris are running in the primary.
South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, who worked with Democrats to draft comprehensive immigration reform, faces a primary fight in his quest for a third term. He faces state Sen. Lee Bright, businessman Richard Cash and Nancy Mace, the first woman to graduate from The Citadel military college.
Until recently, Wyoming Republican Mike Enzi, who is in his third term, faced a primary challenge for his seat from political commentator Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president. Cheney had been showing off her right-wing credentials in a high-profile feud with her out sister Mary over same-sex marriage. In early January, Cheney announced she was giving up the fight, citing family health reasons.
Alaska Republicans are lining up to challenge incumbent Democrat Mark Begich, including Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, former state natural resources director Dan Sullivan and tea partier Joe Miller.
Democrats in the Hawaii primary include U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, appointed by the governor to succeed the late Daniel Inouye, and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who Inouye had wanted for his successor. The seat is considered safe for Democrats, but Republican Linda Lingle, a former governor, may run.
For the House
Since 1921, the midterm elections in a president’s second term have brought big losses — an average of 29 House seats — for the White House’s party. Voters’ irritation has been dubbed the “six-year itch” and the exception was in Bill Clinton’s second term.
But Democratic optimists stress that the six-year itch may not apply to the current administration, because the White House already had a miserable midterm in the president’s second year in office and polls show voters far more dissatisfied with Congress than Barack Obama.
There are other factors to consider, including the fact that redistricting has created more safe seats for parties and incumbents. In a recent study, “Monopoly Politics 2014,” the non-partisan Fair Vote said it could project the outcome of 373 congressional races because of the crafting of safe districts and a winner-take-all system.
“The outcomes of those 373 races are effectively predetermined, regardless of national partisan tilt in 2014 or the quality of challenger candidates,” said Fair Vote, which has an near perfect accuracy rate for prior elections. “Only in the case of an incumbent retirement, scandal or extreme party wave are any of these projections likely to be incorrect.”
The group projected the election of 210 Republicans and 163 Democrats in 2014. It has not made projections for 62 seats.