The Fix’s top 10 primaries of 2014

October 4, 2013

Some of the most memorable campaigns in recent memory have been primaries.

Take Ted Cruz's remarkable victory over David Dewhurst in Texas last cycle. Or the heated member-vs.-member contests between Jason Altmire and Mark Critz in Pennsylvania, and Adam Kinzinger and Don Manzullo in Illinois, to name a few. And don't forget the tea party victories in Senate GOP primaries that have cost Republicans big in the last two cycles.

As the 2014 landscape takes shape, there are already some very intriguing primary matchups in motion. Some races stand out because of deep rivalries or candidates looking for redemption. Others matter because the winner could increase or decrease a party's odds of winning in the general election.

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We've combed through the Senate, House, and gubernatorial landscape for the 10 best, which we give you below in alphabetical order.

This is an evolving list as much can change as 2014 draws near. Have thoughts? We welcome your input in the comments section.

And now, without further ado, to the Line!

Alaska's Republican Senate race: Sen. Mark Begich (D) is one of the cycle's most vulnerable senators, which explains the Republican competition for the chance to run against him. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan could find themselves in a heated race, and disastrous 2010 nominee Joe Miller adds another variable to the equation. An especially bruising primary is the last thing Republicans need as they try to unseat Begich.

California's 31st District race: This Democratic-leaning district is represented by Republican Gary Miller. He can thank the state's top-two, all-party primary system and a vote-split among Democrats for propelling him to victory in 2012. Democrats didn't even make the top two, something they must avoid this time around to have a chance of picking up the seat. Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar is running again, and has the backing of the DCCC. But he has competition in the form of former congressman Joe Baca, attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes (who is backed by Emily’s List) and school board official Danny Tillman.

Georgia's Republican Senate race: There's a full house looking to snag the nomination in the Peach State and the candidate Republicans decide to nominate will determine how much of a chance Democrats have of springing an upset. Former secretary of state Karen Handel and Rep. Jack Kingston would put Republicans in a good position against Michelle Nunn (D). But Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey have stoked controversy with their remarks, which would make Republicans nervous about them in the general election.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

Hawaii's Democratic Senate race: Late-Sen. Daniel Inouye's dying wish was that Rep. Colleen Hanabusa replace him in the Senate. Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) didn't grant his request, instead tapping his lieutenant governor, Brian Schatz. That didn't sit will with Inouye's allies, and Hanabusa quickly decided to challenge Schatz. She has the backing of Inouye's widow. Political campaigning in the Aloha State is not nearly as nasty as it is many other places, but this race looks primed to get heated. It's the latest incarnation of a long-running split in the Hawaii Democratic Party.

Idaho's 2nd District Republican race: Attorney Bryan Smith became the conservative Club For Growth's first crowd-sourced endorsement earlier this year. Rep. Mike Simpson's district is one of the most conservative in the country, leading the Club to believe it can unseat him. The group has demonstrated a willingness to put its money where its mouth is, suggesting this will be a tough race. Still, it's rare for House incumbents to lose in primaries.

Kentucky's Republican Senate race: The jury is still out on businessman Matt Bevin. He gave a well-received speech at Fancy Farm, but can he hang with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of the toughest campaigners in Congress? TBD. That's what makes this race worth watching. Even if Bevin puts up a fight and loses, he will force McConnell to spend money he won't have for the general election. It's also worth remembering that the fact that McConnell has drawn a conservative primary challenger has impacted the Republican leader's maneuvers in the Senate.

Massachusetts's Democratic gubernatorial race: The most interesting part of this race can be summed up in two words: Martha Coakley. Even after a disastrous 2010 Senate campaign, the state Attorney General remains one of the most popular Democrats in the state. On paper, she's the front-runner to succeed Gov. Deval Patrick (D). But has she learned some tough lessons from 2010? If not, she could fizzle once again. The redemption or repetition question makes the Bay State race one to watch.

Rhode Island's Democratic gubernatorial race: Okay, so this race isn't as filled with as much intrigue as it would have been had unpopular Gov. Lincoln Chafee (D) decided to continue his campaign. But it's still one to watch. Odds are the winner of the Democratic nomination will be the next governor. And that means we can expect a competitive race between two rising stars: state Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras.

Tennessee's 4th District Republican race: It didn't take long for embattled Rep. Scott DesJarlais to draw a primary challenger. State Sen. Jim Tracy announced his bid in January, on the heels of revelations of affairs between DesJarlais and patients and employees at his medical practice. DesJarlais's weak fundraising has raised questions about whether he will survive the campaign. This race is the latest test of whether an incumbent can overcome personal scandal. Right now, things aren't looking great for DesJarlais.

Liz Cheney speaks during a campaign appearance. (Matt Young / AP Photo)
Liz Cheney speaks during a campaign appearance. (Matt Young/AP)

Wyoming's Republican Senate race: The race between Liz Cheney and Sen. Mike Enzi has the makings of a nasty campaign. (Already, former senator Alan Simpson has been caught in the middle.) The big question for Cheney, the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney: Can she overcome the carpetbagger label?

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Chris Cillizza · October 4, 2013