In one scenario, the 2014 midterm elections could become known as a throw-the-bums-out, anti-incumbent wave with more than a dozen sitting governors and senators being tossed from office by fed-up voters. But it’s just as easy to imagine that most or all the incumbents up for re-election will narrowly hang on to their jobs, despite record levels of disillusionment and disgust with America's gridlocked government.
During the primaries, several incumbent, establishment GOP senators were able to beat back surprising challenges from tea party-backed candidates. That included Sens. Pat Roberts of Kansas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, John Cornyn of Texas, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
In the House of Representatives, the biggest incumbent to get the boot in the primaries was House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, who succumbed to tea party challenger Dave Brat in one of the most surprising elections in recent memory. On the Democratic side, Rep. John Tierney of Massachusetts lost to challenger Seth Moulton and Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s 40-year political career came to an end after losing to State Sen. David Ige.
But, overall, incumbents' relative success in the primaries doesn't mean they're safe in November. Looking ahead to the general election, several incumbents – both Democratic and Republican – are in real danger. We received input from the msnbc.com community on which of these races you are paying particularly close attention to. Here’s a look at the most talked about incumbents who could be out of a job come next year.
Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts -- The Republican senator from Kansas has been in trouble for quite some time, narrowly beating out tea party challenger Milton Wolf in the state’s GOP primary.
This Senate race has thrown a wrench into both parties’ plans. Democratic candidate Chad Taylor dropped out of the competition in September, leaving Roberts, the incumbent, trying to secure a fourth term against independent candidate Greg Orman. What makes the race even more of a wild card is that Orman hasn't said which party he would caucus with in the Senate.
Roberts has tried to pain Orman as a liberal in disguise in this red state. Orman, meanwhile, has tried to pitch himself as an independent voice that is much needed on Capitol Hill.
According to a new NBC/Marist poll, Orman is leading Roberts by 1 point. Earlier this month, however, Orman led by 10 points.
Alaska Sen. Mark Begich – The Democratic senator from Alaska, elected in 2008 after beating veteran Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, is in the hot seat himself. Begich faces a stiff challenge from Republican Dan Sullivan in a state President Obama lost by 14 points to Mitt Romney in 2012.
Sullivan is trying to tie Begich to Obama, who is unpopular in the state. Begich, meanwhile, is trying to distance himself from the president, even going as far to recently say he’s “not relevant.” Begich has gone after Sullivan, who served as the state’s natural resources commissioner, for not being an Alaska native.
The RealClearPolitics average of polling data surrounding the race shows Republican challenger Dan Sullivan up by 4.2 points.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett – It’s looking likely that the Republican Pennsylvania governor who was first elected in 2010, will lose to Democratic businessman Tom Wolf.
Corbett has been under intense scrutiny over several issues, including his response to the Penn State sex abuse scandal, cuts to education and a sputtering economy that he inherited.
North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan – A new NBC News/Marist survey released Sunday shows the Democratic incumbent senator tied with her GOP opponent, state House Speaker Thom Tillis, with 43% each. Hagan had a 4-point lead earlier this month.
While Hagan has been trying to distance herself from Obama, who remains unpopular in the state, Tillis has gone after Hagan on a slew of issues, including her attendance record at Armed Services Committee hearings. He has also accused her of not doing enough in the Senate to combat the terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu --The incumbent Louisiana senator is being challenged for a fourth term by Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy and tea party favorite Rob Maness. While polls have consistently showed Landrieu with a lead against Cassidy, she’s not near the 50% threshold required by the state to avoid a runoff election on Dec. 6 between the top two candidates.
Right now, the GOP vote is being divided by Cassidy and Maness. But if Landrieu is forced into a runoff between just her and Cassidy, polls show the sitting senator could lose.
Republicans have aired ads skewering Landrieu’s support for Obamacare. Landrieu, meanwhile, is trying to distance herself from Obama’s energy and health care policies.
Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor – A new NBC News/Marist survey showed the Arkansas incumbent Democratic senator, elected in 2003, with 43% support among likely voters, compared to GOP challenger Tom Cotton with 45% (within the poll's margin of error). Pryor has been trying to distance himself from Obama, who remains unpopular in this red state where Obama lost to Mitt Romney in 2012 by a 24-point margin.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott -- Several polls have shown the Florida Republican governor deadlocked with Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist. The two are not very popular in the Sunshine State and voter turnout is expected to be the tipping factor in this race.
Crist, a former Florida governor, has tried to paint Scott as an out-of-touch businessman, while Scott has attempted to brand Crist as an untrustworthy flip-flopper.
The two have fought fiercely over several issues, including the economy, immigration, medical marijuana and state executions.
New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen -- Republican Scott Brown, a former Massachusetts senator, hopes to unseat Democratic incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in this race in New Hampshire. Brown has trailed consistently throughout the campaign, but recent surveys indicate he is closing the gap.
Brown, defeated in Massachusetts in 2012 by Elizabeth Warren, has been trying to tie Shaheen to Obama’s positions on health care, immigration and foreign policy as the president remains unpopular in the state. Shaheen, in turn, has accused Brown of being a carpetbagger and has called him a protector of big oil companies.
Colorado Sen. Mark Udall – According to a new NBC News/Marist poll, Udall is in serious danger of losing his Senate seat. His Republican challenger, Cory Gardner, has a 1-point lead among likely voters in Colorado, according to the survey. In September, Udall had a 6-point lead.
Udall has stressed his support for abortion rights and contraception in hopes of winning over young, single women who often don’t vote in midterm elections. He has gone after Gardner’s past support for “personhood” legislation, which would restrict access to certain types of birth control. Republicans, meanwhile, have tried to tie Udall to Obama, who is unpopular in the state. Gardner has repeatedly attacked Udall for voting for Obamacare.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker – Recent polls have shown Republican incumbent Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke in a dead heat. The stakes are high, especially for Walker, who survived a recall election in 2012 and is considered a potential 2016 presidential candidate.
Walker and Burke, a businesswoman and former Wisconsin commerce secretary, both played it safe during their final debate Friday, sticking to state and local issues and shying away from more controversial ones – like collective bargaining power, the minimum wage and reproductive rights – that have fiercely divided the electorate.
Additional sitting governors in the danger zone include Republican Govs. Sean Parnell in Alaska, Nathan Deal in Georgia, Sam Brownback in Kansas, and Paul LePage in Maine. On the Democratic side, it’s John Hickenlooper in Colorado, Dan Malloy in Connecticut and Pat Quinn in Illinois.