Democrats have an uphill task to gain back control of the House, and the shrinking competitive battlefield has made it even more difficult to flip the 17 seats they need to regain a majority--even if they are successful in the South Carolina's 1st District special election tomorrow.
With recruitment and fundraising in full swing, both parties are keeping an eye on more than 50 competitive congressional seats though, and hope to expand the narrow playing field in the coming months. But there are some top races both sides know they have their best chance at--and the other side must play their best defense.
Here’s our list of the top seats likely to flip control for each party, and why. We’ll update our list and rankings occasionally, and keep you updated as the 2014 midterms draw closer.
TOP REPUBLICAN-HELD TARGETS
1. Gary Miller, California’s 31st District. Gary Miller is a lucky man--he won re-election in 2012 without having ever represented any of this Democratic-leaning district previously, and had to do it against another Republican. When California’s non-partisan redistricting commission split his district, Miller chose to run here, and already had a difficult task in the Democratic-leaning Inland Empire. But with the state’s new top-two primary system throwing in another dash of uncertainty, the Democratic choice, Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, failed to finish in the top two, and Democrats didn’t even have a candidate on the November ballot. Miller defeated state Sen. Bob Dutton as Obama won 57% in the same district.
Now, Miller sits in the most Democratic district in the country represented by a Republican, and has a huge target on his back. Democrats hoped to clear the primary for Aguilar again, but former Democratic Rep. Joe Baca, and maybe even other Democrats, are eyeing the seat. Democrats don’t want to give this one away again, but Miller isn’t helping his cause. In the first quarter, he only raised $78,000 in the first three months of 2013. Still, there would need to be a competitive Republican in the race to set up another 2012 scenario, and that doesn't seem likely. One thing both parties agree on: Miller is easily the most vulnerable Republican this cycle.
2. Mike Coffman, Colorado’s 6th District. Coffman’s suburban Denver district was significantly redrawn in redistricting, but Democrats didn’t land a strong challenger against him last time, and even failed to take advantage of early comments the Republican had made questioning President Obama’s birthplace. As Obama won the district with 53%, Coffman won, 48.7% to 45.1%, with third-party candidates splitting the rest.
But Democrats already netted an early top recruit they had tried to land last time--former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff. Though the Democrat brushed some in the party wrong when he primaried Sen. Michael Bennet in 2010, Democrats believe he fits the district here, and brings a stronger fundraising base and skills than their 2012 nominee, Joe Miklosi, had. Romanoff will have to run a better campaign, but he’s keeping pace with Coffman in the money game in which each have raised just over a half million dollars in the first quarter. If there’s no third-party candidate either, Democrats like their chances even better.
3. Chris Gibson, New York’s 19th District. Gibson won a second term in 2012 by seven points over Democrat Julian Schreibman as Obama won the district by six points. But Schreibman, a former prosecutor, got in the race late and never was able to catch up with Gibson, especially financially. For 2014, Democrat Sean Eldridge won’t have that problem. The wealthy venture capitalist is married to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and can draw top fundraising contributions as well as self-fund. Expect Republicans to make their wealth and lavish homes an issue, but this one already looks to be more competitive in a midterm year.
4. Rodney Davis, Illinois’ 13th District. A former aide to Rep. John Shimkus, Davis was a last-minute replacement in 2012 after Rep. Tim Johnson announced he was retiring after the primary. Three-time nominee David Gill wasn’t Democrats’ first choice, especially in a now-open seat, but the race still was competitive. Romney carried the district, but narrowly. Democrats wanted Chief Circuit Court Judge Ann Callis to run last time and she declined, though she seems more interested this time around. They’ll need to avoid a messy primary too though, and Gill and others have said they’re interested again. Still, this is the one that got away from Democrats last time in the Land of Lincoln, and it’s high on target lists for 2014.
5. David Valadao, California’s 21st District. Obama rolled to an 11-point win in the Central Valley seat, even as Republican David Valadao notched a 16 point victory. Don’t let those numbers fool you -- it was a Democratic recruitment fiasco that led to Valado running against an incredibly weak candidate, and this district should be competitive. But the onus is now on Democrats to make sure they have a strong recruit. One early problem: an open state senate seat could be more attractive for local leaders.
TOP DEMOCRATIC-HELD TARGETS
1. Jim Matheson, Utah’s 4th District. Matheson has defied the political odds time after time, and Democrats remain cautiously optimistic he can do it yet again. Matheson sits in the most Republican district currently held by a Democrat, and he won re-election in 2014 even as GOP nominee Mitt Romney carried his district by a whopping 37 points. Last year, Republicans even netted a star recruit in Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love, who would have been the first African-American female Republican in the House. Love won a coveted speaking slot at the RNC in Tampa, but failed to translate that into a win. She fell short by 768 votes.
Love’s running again, and Republicans know she needs to run a more local and less national race. She’s retooled her campaign by bringing on respected political hand Dave Hansen. Democrats say if Love couldn’t win with Romney atop the ticket, she can’t again, but midterm elections are a different ballgame.
2. Mike McIntyre, North Carolina’s 7th District. McIntrye also escaped 2012 by a hair -- prevailing by just 654 votes over Republican David Rouzer. The GOP nominee is back for another go-around, and like Love, will need to run a re-tooled campaign, but Rouzer can avoid a bruising primary, he will already be better off. The Tar Heel State was a GOP killing ground last cycle, but McIntyre ran a disciplined race in this district Romney won by 19 points, playing up his moderate record and Blue Dog fiscal conservatism. He’ll have another usual tough go-around in 2014, though.
3. Ron Barber, Arizona’s 2nd District. Republicans believe they may have finally found the perfect candidate in this Tucson district that’s vexed them for some time, but in 2012, it was too little too late.
When Gabrielle Giffords stepped down from her congressional seat to focus on her recovery following the tragic Tucson shooting the year before, Barber, her longtime district director, was her natural successor. He faced off in a primary against Giffords’ polarizing 2010 nominee Jesse Kelly, but when retired Air Force fighter pilot Martha McSally entered the scene, Republicans saw immediate promise. McSally lost the special election primary, but when Kelly lost the general, McSally became their standardbearer for the general election. Even then, McSally came on too late, many Republicans believe. After days of counting, Barber won by just 2,454 votes as Romney narrowly won the district by about two points. McSally seems poised to run again though, setting up another competitive contest.
4. John Barrow, Georgia’s 12th District. Exactly how competitive this contest ends up being depends first on whether the Blue Dog Democrat runs for reelection or makes a gamble by running for Senate. If it’s the latter, this is an even better pickup for the GOP. But to take on the survivor Barrow, they need a top candidate, and they certainly didn’t have one in 2012 when lackluster state Rep. Lee Anderson made many blunders. The result? Barrow cruised to a seven point victory even as Romney won the district by 12 points. Republicans need to avoid another nasty primary fight that hobbled them last cycle, and many hope former state Senate President Tommie Williams, who the district was essentially redrawn for last time, will decide to jump in this time.
5. Ann Kirkpatrick, Arizona’s 1st District. Kirkpatrick mounted a successful comeback after being swept out in the 2010 wave, but it was an underwhelming victory with just 48.6% in a three-way race. Republicans hope if they can make it a two-person contest, they’ll have a better shot in this district Romney won by about three points. It’s a top recruitment target, and one to keep an eye on in the Copper State.