The Fix 60: The most important House races in the country

October 19, 2012

The battle for control of the House has taken a back seat to both the presidential and Senate races this election year -- mostly because it seems far less likely that the House could flip control.

But that doesn't mean the House isn't important.

Even as neither side appears primed for major gains, there are five dozen seats that have a good chance of changing parties. And the progress made by either side could very well have a significant impact both on Congress's legislative process and on future races when the majority will be at stake.

Below, we rank these 60 races from No. 1 through No. 60, in order of how likely they are to flip. In other words, No. 1 is the most likely to change control, while No. 60 is the least likely (while still being possible).

Of the 60 seats listed below, 36 are held by Republicans, and 24 are held by Democrats -- a reflection of the amount of defense Democrats are having to play even as they have talked openly about re-taking the House.

What did we get wrong (or right)? The comments section awaits.

And for another way to look at the battle for the House, make sure to check out our House race ratings, which include all the races listed below.

(One note before we begin: Because of redistricting, there are a number of districts that have no incumbent because they are either new districts or because they were drawn in an area where no incumbents lived. In these few cases, these seats are listed according to whether they were drawn to favor Republicans or Democrats.)

To the line!

1. NC-13 (D): Democrats almost didn’t have a candidate for retiring Rep. Brad Miller’s (D) seat when their nominee briefly dropped out; he might have as well have not reentered the race. Meet soon-to-be-Rep.-elect George Holding (R).

2. NC-11 (D): Rep. Heath Shuler (D) retired after North Carolina Republicans drew his district to be the most conservative in the state, and his chief of staff Hayden Rogers doesn’t have much chance of replacing him. Businessman Mark Meadows (R) should soon join Congress.

3. AR-4 (D): Another Democratic retirement has basically cost them a seat, with Rep. Mike Ross’s (D) exit paving the way for rising GOP star Tom Cotton. Cotton’s Democratic opponent was caught on tape using the n-word.

4. MD-6 (R): Democrats basically drew 86-year-old Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R) out of a district, and businessman John Delaney (D) should defeat Bartlett after a surprising primary win.

5. IL-8 (R): Rep. Joe Walsh’s (R) shoot-from-the-hip style was okay in a swing district in 2010. After Democrats drew him a much tougher district, it’s going to be very hard for him to beat Democrat Tammy Duckworth in 2012.

6. OK-2 (D): Republican Markwayne Mullin is looking like a strong favorite to replace another retiring Blue Dog Democrat, Rep. Dan Boren.


Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.)

7. IN-2 (D): Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) is a real contender in the state’s open Senate race, but his House seat is likely to be won by his 2010 GOP opponent, Jackie Walorski. Democrats opted not to spend money contesting this one.

8. NC-8 (D): Democrats have canceled all of their ad reservations for Rep. Larry Kissell (D), and he’s looking like a clear underdog against Republican former congressional aide Richard Hudson.

9. FL-26 (R): Things just keep getting worse for embattled Rep. David Rivera (R), and some in his party are leaving him for dead amid multiple investigations. Democrat Joe Garcia leads in the polls, and Rivera hasn’t raised much money in recent months.

10. GA-12 (D): Rep. John Barrow’s (D) recent ad talking about how his grandfather used a pistol in order to break up lynchings is smart; it appeals both to gun owners and the district’s significant African-American population. But this is a very tough district, and Republican Lee Anderson is favored.

11. NY-24 (R): Freshman Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R) barely beat Democrat Dan Maffei in 2010, and after redistricting, she faces a rematch in one of the most Democratic districts in upstate New York.

12. MI-1 (R): In contrast to Buerkle, freshman Rep. Dan Benishek (R) won easily in 2010, but faces a much tougher rematch with Democrat Gary McDowell.

13. AZ-9 (R): Democrat Kyrsten Sinema looks like a slight favorite to win the state’s new 9th district, which was drawn with a very slight GOP lean. She would be the first openly bisexual member of Congress.

14. FL-22 (R): Adam Hasner (R) left the Senate race to run here when Rep. Allen West (R) switched to the 18th district. Hasner and former West Palm Beach mayor Lois Frankel (D) are in a close race, but the seat leans Democratic.


Mia Love

15. IL-10 (R): Freshman Rep. Bob Dold (R) is defending the most Democratic district that is held by a Republican, but he’s shown himself to be a pretty strong candidate – just like his predecessor, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). He faces Democrat Brad Schneider.

16. UT-4 (D): Mia Love appears to have taken a small lead on Rep. Jim Matheson (D) after her star turn at the Republican National Convention, but Matheson is popular and tough.

17. NH-2 (R): Two recent WMUR-TV/University of New Hampshire polls showed Democrat Ann McLane Kuster leading Rep. Charlie Bass (R) by one point and three points in yet another 2010 rematch.

18. NY-27 (D): Special election-winning Rep. Kathy Hochul (D) will attempt to defend upstate New York’s most conservative district after redistricting made her task much tougher. Former Erie County Executive Chris Collins is the GOP candidate.

19. NC-7 (D): Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) is just about the only thing standing between Republicans and a four-seat gain in the Tarheel State. He faces state Sen. David Rouzer (R).

20. IL-11 (R): Rep. Judy Biggert’s (R) district experienced the biggest Democratic shift in the state during redistricting, and polls show her and former congressman Bill Foster (D) in a tight race.

21. PA-12 (D): A poll conducted earlier this month for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review by GOP-leaning pollster Susquehanna showed GOP challenger Keith Rothfus at 45 percent and Rep. Mark Critz (D) at 43 percent.

22. AZ-1 (R): Former congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick (D) recently lost the Arizona Republic’s endorsement after the paper accused her of a “meltdown.” Republican former state senator Jonathan Paton (R) has a good shot in this conservative-leaning district.

23. IL-17 (R): An internal GOP poll this week showed Rep. Bobby Schilling (R) leading by seven points, while a Democratic poll showed challenger Cheri Bustos (D) up by one.

24. CA-52 (R): The two national parties have spent more on Rep. Brian Bilbray’s (R) district than they have on any other – nearly $4 million combined so far. San Diego Port Commissioner Scott Peters (D) has a good shot here.

25. NH-1 (R): Former congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (D) is getting much better reviews this time than she did in her past campaigns, and if she can beat freshman Rep. Frank Guinta (R), Democrats will likely have regained both of New Hampshire’s congressional districts.

26. NY-18 (R): Independent polling has shown freshman Rep. Nan Hayworth (R) up by a significant amount, but a new Democratic poll shows challenger Sean Patrick Maloney within the margin of error.

27. CA-7 (R): The race for this Sacramento-area seat has been one of the country’s most expensive House races: Over $6 million in outside money has flowed in, most of it to help Ami Bera (D) defeat Rep. Dan Lungren (R). 

28. IL-12 (D): President Obama is expected to win this southern Illinois district, where a late-September Democratic poll showed Bill Enyart (D) leading Jason Plummer (R) by eight in a district retiring Rep. Jerry Costello (D) has represented for 20 years. 

29. MN-8 (R): Former congressman Rick Nolan (D) is in a tight race against freshman Rep. Chip Cravaack (R), whose 2010 victory win over longtime Rep. Jim Oberstar (D) was perhaps the biggest upset in the country.

30. IL-13 (R): Rep. Tim Johnson’s (R) post-primary retirement forced Republicans to go with Rodney Davis, an aide to Rep. John Shimkus (R), against physician David Gill (D). Gill's ads have recently come under scrutiny.

31. FL-18 (R): The ad war took a nasty turn earlier this month when Rep. Allen West's (R) Iraq interrogations and Patrick Murphy's college arrest came into focus. A new poll from Democratic-leaning pollster PPP shows West up nine.

32. CO-6 (R): Rep. Mike Coffman (R) is trying to fend off a challenge from state Rep. Joe Miklosi in a redrawn district that would have given Obama a nine-point win in 2008. 


Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.)

33. MA-06 (D): There hasn't been much good news recently for Rep. John Tierney (D) in this race, which a recent Boston Globe poll showed Republican challenger Richard Tisei is leading. 

34. CA-26 (R): A Democratic poll conducted for state Assemblywoman Julia Brownley's (D) campaign over the summer showed a close race against state Sen. Tony Strickland (R).

35. TX-23 (R): Ad spending has eclipsed the $4 million mark in freshman Rep. Quico Canseco's (R) massive district, which includes the San Antonio media market. League of Conservation Voters-backed state Rep. Pete Gallego (D) beat former congressman Ciro Rodriguez (D) in a primary runoff.

36. OH-16 (R): A summer internal poll for Rep. Betty Sutton (D) showed a very tight race against Rep. Jim Renacci (R) in this member-vs.-member showdown -- one of just two races pitting members of the opposite party against one another.

37. IA-3 (R): The other race pitting a Democratic member against a GOP member is also close. A Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee poll released late last month showed a tied contest between Rep. Leonard Boswell (D) and Rep. Tom Latham (R). 

38. WA-1 (D): Second-time candidate Suzan DelBene (D) is facing a tough race against Republican John Koster in gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee's (D) old district -- perhaps tougher than the self-funding Democrat expected.

39. NY-19 (R): The NRCC recently pulled an ad attacking Julian Schreibman's (D) work as a defense attorney. Notwithstanding, Rep. Chris Gibson (R) looks like he has a slight edge here. 

40. CT-5 (D): Rep. Chris Murphy's (D) departure for the Senate race triggered this open race between Elizabeth Esty (D) and Andrew Roraback (R), and a recent poll from the GOP outside group American Action Network showed Roraback with an edge despite the district's Democratic lean.

41. CA-10 (R): Former astronaut Jose Herandez (D) is one of the DCCC's highest-profile recruits, but a slight edge goes to Rep. Jeff Denham (R) here. 

42. NV-4 (D): Steven Horsford (D) is the first African-American state Senate majority leader in Nevada and got a Democratic-leaning new seat to run in, but he's having trouble getting prominent African-American support against Republican Danny Tarkanian, the son of former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian.

43. CA-41 (D): If Riverside Community College Board Trustee Mark Takano (D) defeats Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione (R) in this new district, he'd become the first openly gay Asian American in Congress. 

44. CO-3 (R): Rep. Scott Tipton (R) is looking to hold his seat in a district that went 50 percent for John McCain against former state House minority leader Sal Pace (D). 

45. NY-21 (D): Rep. Bill Owens (D) led Republican challenger Matt Doheny by 13 points in a Siena poll released early last month, but the race should be closer than that.

46. KY-6 (D): A recent NRCC poll showed Republican Andy Barr within range of Rep. Ben Chandler (D), but the incumbent is still the frontrunner in this rematch of 2010. 


Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.)

47. OH-6 (R): A day after a Republican poll showed freshman Rep. Bill Johnson (R) leading by eight, former congressman Charlie Wilson's (D) campaign released a survey showing him leading the incumbent by six

48. WI-7 (R): This race leans toward freshman Rep. Sean Duffy (R), who a GOP poll earlier this month showed leading former state senator Pat Kreitlow (D) by 11 points. 

49. RI-1 (D): Rep. David Cicilline's (D) record as mayor of Providence has haunted him during his first term, leaving him vulnerable to a challenge from Republican Brendan Doherty in a very Democratic district. But he seems to have recovered to some degree.

50. CA-24 (D): Republicans got an able candidate in former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado (see what we did there?), but Rep. Lois Capps (D) was ready for the challenge and is favored to win.

51. IA-4 (R): Former Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack (D) has run a well-funded and skillful campaign, but the Republican tilt of this western and central Iowa district should send Rep. Steve King (R) back to Congress.

52. NV-3 (R): Freshman Rep. Joe Heck (R) has been a major Democratic target since he won the seat in 2010, but despite heavy spending from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, looks likely to hang on. Heck faces state Assembly Speaker John Oceguera (D).

53. CA-9 (D): Republicans were very high on the candidacy of wunderkind Ricky Gill, but Rep. Jerry McNerney (D) has been steady and benefits from the district's Democratic tilt.

54. FL-10 (R): No congressional candidate was more hyped by Democrats in 2011 than former Orlando chief of police Val Demings, and now she appears to have closed the gap on freshman Rep. Dan Webster (R).

55. IA-2 (D): Rep. Dave Loebsack (D) was one of the biggest surprises for national Democrats when he ousted longtime Rep. Jim Leach (R) in 2006. Republicans have an outside chance to beat him in this Democratic-friendly eastern Iowa seat. Republican John Archer has an outside chance.

56. FL-2 (R): Former state senator Al Lawson (D) has done surprisingly well for himself, but freshman Rep. Steve Southerland (R) seems likely to hang on.

57. CA-36 (R): Democrats have long believed they could beat Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R) in her Palm Springs-area seat, and both sides acknowledge emergency room physician Raul Ruiz has momentum in what remains a bit of an uphill climb for the challenger.

58. NY-1 (D): In 2010, Rep. Tim Bishop (D) survived by just 593 votes against challenger Randy Altschuler (R). But Bishop appears to be wining by a much more comfortable margin in their 2012 rematch.

59. MN-6 (R): Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) came up short in her presidential campaign, and now she's got a tougher-than-expected reelection campaign on her hands against Democrat Jim Graves.

60. MI-11 (R): Reindeer farmer -- yes, you read that right -- Kerry Bentivolio (R) appears headed to Congress this fall after the fall of Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R), but it's not a sure thing against Democrat Syed Taj.

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Sean Sullivan | October 19, 2012