The Fix’s top 10 open seat House races of 2014

January 17

House retirements are popping up with increasing frequency lately. But what does it mean in the battle for the majority?

Overall, the open races are filled with opportunities for Democrats. Seven of the 10 most likely to flip party control are Republican-held seats.

The race to replace Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), above, stands to be competitive (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)
The race to replace Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), above, stands to be competitive. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

But it's not all good news for the Democrats. The top two seats on the list are near locks to swing back to Republicans. And considering that Democrats need to pick up 17 seats to win back the House majority -- a possibility that no one is really even talking about anymore -- the recent retirements in these seats have made the party's climb even steeper.

Below we give you our rundown of the top 10 open seats most likely to flip control. We list the name of the member who is retiring or is already out of office at the start of each entry. No. 1 is the race most likely to flip.

To the Line!

10. Rep Tim Griffin (R-Ark.). We believe that picking up this seat will be a tough task for Democrats. But the coordinated campaign in the state -- top recruit Mike Ross is running for governor while the Democratic cavalry has rushed to the aid of vulnerable Sen. Mark Pryor -- makes this a contest to watch. Keep an eye on Little Rock banking executive French Hill (R), who just had a big fundraising quarter.

9. Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) This seat probably shouldn’t be on this list – it gave Mitt Romney a 13-point win in 2012 – but Democrats feel good about their recruit, former Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) aide John Lewis. The GOP bench in this state, meanwhile, remains a big question, and the party managed to lose an open governor’s race in 2012 despite Romney’s big margin. Daines is vacating the seat to run for the Senate.

8. Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.). The Philadelphia suburbs are among the most highly-scrutinized swing areas in politics. Observers will get another plum chance to look at the area this year in the race to replace Gerlach. On the Democratic side, businessman and Army veteran Michael Parrish has filed to run. The Republican field includes Chester County Commissioner Ryan Costello. Former state Sam Rohrer (R) isn't running.

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7. Rep. Bill Owens (D-N.Y.). This is pretty swingy -- a 52 percent President Obama district -- territory, but Democrats feel pretty good about keeping it. Wealthy former congressman Scott Murphy’s (D) potential candidacy might have something to do with that. State Assemblywoman Addie Russell (D), meanwhile, will announce her intentions Friday. And a third name will bring back memories: Dede Scozzafava, the former GOP assemblywoman whom conservatives deserted en masse in a 2009 special election against Owens. She later joined Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) administration.

6. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) The Republican field could be competitive in this Northern Virginia bellwether that's been represented by Wolf for three decades. Democrats, meanwhile, are bullish on Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust (D). Romney won here by about a point in 2012, making this pretty close to an even district. For Democrats to stand a chance of making a net gain in the House this cycle, they need to win seats like this one.

5. Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa). Latham was considered a potential candidate for Iowa’s open Senate seat, but he eventually opted out of his own reelection bid as well. This is a district that went more than 51 percent for Obama, and Republicans have a bit of a primary to deal with. Secretary of State Matt Schultz, state Sen. Brad Zaun and former Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) aide David Young will duke it out, with the winner likely getting former state senator Staci Appel (D).

4. Rep. Jon Runyan (R-N.J.). The two-term former NFL Pro Bowler's career was all-too-short, as far as Republicans are concerned. He won a tough race and then reelection in 2012 in a district that Obama carried with 52 percent. This might be the purest swing seat on this list. Republicans, though, have to be a little concerned that former Senate candidate Steve Lonegan is running. He might be the favorite for the GOP nomination, but he’s not from the district and is staunchly conservative – something that might not play in this swing district in South Jersey.

3. Late congressman C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.). The long-serving Young was untouchable here. But former Young aide and lobbyist David Jolly (R) will have a tougher time competing in this swing district Obama won in 2012. Jolly faces Democrat Alex Sink, who outraised the entire GOP field during the primary. With absentee ballots set to go out soon (the option is popular in the district), Jolly has little time to make up ground against Sink ahead of the March special election. If Democrats can't win here with their dream candidate, they are in for a long 2014.

2. Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.). Republicans crafted a doozy of a map in North Carolina, with basically three safe Democratic districts, and the rest being strong GOP leaners – including McIntyre’s 59 percent Romney district. McIntyre barely hung on in a modestly good Democratic year in 2012. Now that it’s an open seat, Democrats will be hard-pressed to even make a run at keeping it. Republican David Rouzer is running again.

1. Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah). Get used to saying the words Congresswoman Mia Love (R). When Matheson announced his retirement last year, he basically ended Democratic hopes of holding this district, in which Romney carried 67 percent of the vote in 2012. Love would become the first black Republican woman elected to Congress.

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Aaron Blake · January 17