It’s a Tossup

The 8 Most Competitive Congressional Races of 2014

From the gay Republican battling the Iraq War veteran Democrat in Massachusetts to the scandal-tarred Florida candidates and a possible blue pickup in deep-red Nebraska, what to watch.

10.28.14 9:45 AM ET

Some of the most interesting and important elections of 2014 are happening in the House of Representatives. While overall control of the House is not in doubt—even the most partisan Democrats concede that not only will John Boehner remain speaker but that the GOP will likely pick up seats—there are an array of peculiar and competitive elections this year that combine to shed interesting light on this odd election season. Even though 32 races aren’t even contested and only 64 out of 435 seats are considered even slightly competitive, there’s still plenty of action. Here are eight of the most interesting House races of 2014.

Massachusettss 6th District
Seth Moulton (D) v. Richard
Tisei (R)

Is 2014 such a bad year for Democrats that a Republican could win in Massachusetts? Richard Tisei is an openly gay Republican former state legislator making his second bid for Congress on the Bay State’s North Shore. Tisei’s chances took a big hit this year when incumbent Democrat John Tierney lost his primary to Seth Moulton, a relatively unknown Iraq War veteran. Tierney had been embroiled in scandal when his wife pleaded guilty to tax fraud in connection to an online gambling ring run by her two brothers. As a result, Tisei almost beat Tierney in the Democratic year of 2012 and was primed to win a rematch. Now, with Moulton on the ballot, Tisei still has a chance in the most Republican-leaning district in Massachusetts, but it’s an uphill battle on turf that President Obama won by 11 points in 2012.

Nebraskas 2nd District
Ashford (D) v. Incumbent Lee Terry (R)

In deep-red Nebraska, by contrast, even with Obama’s massive unpopularity Democrats could pick up a congressional seat. Incumbent Lee Terry has never been terribly popular in his district, which includes all of Omaha and much of the city’s suburbs. But Terry has really been in trouble this year after he insisted he wouldn’t give up his paycheck during the 2013 government shutdown because “Dang straight…I’ve got a nice house and a kid in college.” The resulting furor has kept Terry on the defensive against Democrat Brad Ashford and forced groups supporting the Republican incumbent to air “Willie Horton-style” negative ads on his behalf. Strategists from both parties suggest this race could go either way.

Floridas 26th District
Incumbent Joe Garcia (D) v. Carlos Curbelo (R)

Florida is famously weird, but the rest of the state looks normal compared to the bizarre politics in South Florida’s 26th District. First term Democratic incumbent Joe Garcia won election in 2012 by beating Republican David Rivera, currently an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal fraud investigation. But Garcia has been tied to scandal himself. His former chief of staff has pleaded guilty to voter fraud. And, even worse in some people’s eyes, Garcia has been accused of eating his own earwax on live television. Garcia’s opponent, Carlos Curbelo, is a rising Republican star who has been caught up in several scandals of his own stemming from his career as an unregistered lobbyist. The election is expected to be a tossup in this heavily Cuban American South Florida district. However, the uproar over Curbelo’s description of Social Security and Medicare as “Ponzi schemes” may be just enough to keep the Republican from winning in November.

West Virginias 3rd District
Incumbent Nick Rahall (D) v. Evan Jenkins (R)

Democrat Nick Rahall is one of the longest-serving members of Congress in Washington. First elected in his coal-mining southern West Virginia district in 1976, he has accumulated more seniority than all but six other members of Congress, three of whom are retiring this year. But while Rahall’s district was a Democratic bastion when he won his first race, it is now fervently Republican, and Mitt Romney won almost two-thirds of the votes there in 2012. This year’s race has turned into one of the ugliest, nastiest and most expensive campaigns of the cycle, as Republican state Sen. Evan Jenkins, who switched parties to run for the seat, dukes it out with the longtime incumbent. The race represents perhaps the last stand for Democrats in Appalachia, as social and environmental issues trigger a massive political realignment in the region.

West Virginias 2nd District
Nick Casey (D) v. Alex
Mooney (R)

Even with Rahall on the ropes, Democrats still have some hope in the Mountain State. With longtime Republican incumbent Shelley Moore Capito running for Senate, the GOP nominated a very conservative former state senator named Alex Mooney. While Mooney is slightly more conservative than the median voter in his solidly Republican district, that doesn’t hurt him too much. What does is the fact that the state Senate district he represented until 2010 is across the Potomac River in Maryland. The result is that Mooney, who also ran for the New Hampshire state Legislature while a Dartmouth undergrad, has been attacked as a carpetbagger. His opponent, Nick Casey, is a longtime Democratic Party stalwart who has run a strong campaign and seems to have the momentum in the race. The question is whether that will be enough for a non-incumbent in a Republican year in a state where Obama is about as popular as getting a root canal.

New Yorks 11th District
Recchia (D) v. Incumbent Michael Grimm (R)

In this Staten Island-based district, which Obama won in 2012, Democrat Domenic Recchia has a significant fundraising advantage and Republican incumbent Michael Grimm is facing a 20-count indictment, so why is the race still close? Although the National Republican Congressional Committee cut Grimm off after his indictment, the two-term incumbent—best known for threatening a reporter with violence on camera—has remained popular in his district. Part of that is geography: Grimm is from Staten Island, which makes up a significant majority of the district, while Recchia is from Brooklyn, and his candidacy has aroused parochial feelings west of the Verrazano Bridge. Recchia is also not a great candidate. The Democrat attracted national attention when he was mocked on The Daily Show for touting his foreign policy expertise, which consisted of running an exchange program with students from Japan. It’s still hard to imagine Grimm will win reelection, but Recchia is doing all he can to give hope to the embattled Republican.

Colorados 6th District
Andrew Romanoff (D) v. Incumbent Mike Coffman (R)

This suburban Denver district was ground zero for the new Democratic coalition built by Obama. Once staunchly Republican territory represented by conservative Tom Tancredo, the district was won twice by Obama, and Democrats had recruited a top-tier candidate to run in former House speaker Andrew Romanoff. But it looks like three-term incumbent Mike Coffman will hold off Romanoff, as much because of statewide and national factors as the lean of the district. Democrats are struggling up and down the ticket in the Rocky Mountain State. Both incumbent Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Mark Udall are struggling against Republican opponents in races where they were favored only a few months ago. With national Democrats focused on defending vulnerable incumbents, Romanoff has an uphill fight.

Arizonas 2nd District
Incumbent Ron Barber (D) v. Martha McSally (R)

In the Tucson-based seat formerly held by Gabby Giffords, Democratic incumbent Ron Barber is facing a rematch against Republican Martha McSally. In 2012, the race was so close that it wasn’t called for Barber until nearly two weeks after Election Day. Both candidates have strong biographies. Barber, Giffords’s former district director, was wounded in the 2011 attempt on her life in a supermarket parking lot that killed six. McSally, an Air Force veteran, was the first American woman to fly in combat. Strategists from both parties expect the race to come down to a few hundred votes in either direction in a swing seat that both John McCain and Mitt Romney barely won.