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In battle for House, it's immigration vs. healthcare

In 2010, Republicans rode a political wave of discontent over healthcare to control of the House.

In 2010, Republicans rode a political wave of discontent over healthcare to control of the House. In 2014, with hurdles over the implementation of the law this year, the GOP hopes to capitalize on that sentiment again, especially as polls show a majority of Americans still disapprove of the president's signature legislative achievement. Last month’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed just 37% of the public thinks the law is a good idea, versus 49% saying it’s a bad idea.

But Democrats see their path forward differently. With Republicans routinely blocking legislation in the House and deep fissures even within the GOP caucus, they believe voters will punish Republicans for Congress' dysfunction, especially if they fail to pass comprehensive immigration reform—which not just a majority of voters want but is crucial to reaching out to a growing bloc of Hispanic voters.

The fight for the House lies somewhere between these two philosophies: immigration vs. healthcare. While messaging and the ultimate outcome of these battles will be set in the coming months, here’s some key players in important swing districts to watch on both issues that each side will use to drive home the message they think is a winning one.

Five Republicans to watch on immigration

Rep. Gary Miller, California’s 31st District: Miller is number one on both parties’ list for the most vulnerable incumbent of 2014. He represents the most Democratic district currently held by a Republican—President Obama won 57% here in 2012—and thanks to a top-two primary fluke he faced only another Republican on the November ballot. Democrats have a primary fight here brewing between Democrat Pete Aguilar, the DCCC’s endorsed candidate who failed to make the runoff in 2012, but ex-Rep. Joe Baca and others are in too. Still, Miller’s far more likely than not to have a Democratic opponent.

Democrats are hitting him on immigration already too, with House Majority PAC up with Spanish-language ads against him and earlier this week videos disappeared from his website where he opposed immigration reform in the past in this district with a 44% Latino voting age populations.

Rep. David Valadao, California’s 21st District. Valadao represents one of Democrats’ biggest recruiting disappoints in 2010 in their failure to get a top tier candidate in a district that Obama ended up winning with 55%. Democrats still need a recruit here, and it should be a top target, but Valadao has sounded quite a different tone on immigration than some of his GOP colleagues and has sounded optimistic to a compromise and comprehensive reform.

Rep. Jeff Denham, California’s 10th District. It’s no accident there are three California seats both parties are watching closely for immigration votes. Denham’s district is 35% Hispanic and growing with a nearly 50% minority population. He survived a tough challenge in 2010 against a vaunted Democratic recruit, former astronaut Jose Hernandez, and now Democrats are talking up a beekeeper Michael Eggman.

Rep. Mike Coffman, Colorado’s 6th District. The showdown between Coffman and former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in the Denver suburbs will be costly and bitter. Immigration will be a top flashpoint in this district with a growing Latino population. Republicans will point to Romanoff’s votes in the state House for a strict immigration bill, while Democrats will make Coffman’s past opposition to the DREAM Act a sticking point. Coffman is another target of ads on immigration from House Majority PAC.

Rep. Joe Heck, Nevada’s 3rd District. This two-term Republican’s district has a growing Latino and immigrant community. National Journal took a look at the squeeze he faces in a district where Obama just narrowly won “[Immigrant leaders] are urging Heck to back citizenship for illegal immigrants already here, while equally outspoken GOP supporters are pushing him to challenge birthright citizenship.” Coffman is another target of ads on immigration from House Majority PAC.

Five Democrats to watch on Health care

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, Arizona’s 1st District. Kirkpatrick won a close election in 2012 just two years after losing her seat in the 2010 GOP wave, but Republicans will keep using her initial vote in favor of comprehensive health care reform, even if she did vote to delay employer and individual mandates this week. This is one of seven seats that has voted GOP at the presidential level the past three cycles but is still held by a Democrat that the NRCC is making a focus.

Rep. Ron Barber, Arizona’s 2nd District. Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ former chief of staff won this district in a special election to replace her, and a subsequent closer-than-expected general election race against former Air Force pilot Martha McSally. The branch’s first female fighter pilot in history, McSally has just announced again and both sides expect a close race. Barber also voted to delay the health care mandates this week but has voted against repeal.

Rep. Carol Shea Porter, New Hampshire’s 1st District. Like Kirkpatrick, Shea-Porter voted for health care and lost re-election in 2010. She won a rematch in 2012, but she’s a top target yet again in this Granite State swing district, and the NRCC is touting a robo-poll that showed her 2012 opponent, former Rep. Frank Guinta, narrowly ahead in a close race.

Rep. Patrick Murphy, Florida’s 18th District. This freshman Democrat beat GOP firebrand Allen West last year, and Republicans desperately want to win back this seat that Mitt Romney actually carried in 2012. Murphy voted with Republicans to delay the employer mandate, but his opponents will quickly point out that despite holding a swing seat, he didn’t vote for repeal earlier this year.

Rep. Collin Peterson, Minnesota’s 7th District.  This 12-term Democrat and ranking member on the Agriculture Committee is one of the seven seats that continue to vex Republicans, another one that has voted GOP in the past three presidential cycles. Peterson’s the subject of retirement rumors, and state and national Democrats know his seat is likely gone if he doesn’t run again, but in order to beat him if he runs, Republicans still lack a top recruit. Peterson voted against the original Affordable Care Act in 2010. But that doesn’t mean Republicans won’t try to hang the bill’s unpopularity around his neck, and point out he’s voted against repeal, though he also voted to delay the mandate implementations.