The 10 candidates you might not know, but definitely should

You've heard plenty from us (and others) this election cycle about the breakout stars and biggest names of 2014. Today, we thought we'd do something different and introduce you to a handful of candidates whom you may not be familiar with but who are worthy of your attention.

Then-Rep. Travis Childers (D-Miss.) in July 2010. (Thomas Wells/Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal via Associated Press)
Then-Rep. Travis Childers (D-Miss.) in July 2010.  He is running for U.S. Senate this year. (Thomas Wells/Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal via AP)

In some cases, the candidates have very interesting or unique backgrounds. In others, they have a better chance of winning than many people think but just haven't gotten much buzz -- either because of the party tilts of their states or the lower profile of their races.

Below is our list of 10 under-the-radar contenders you should know about, in alphabetical order. Disagree? Have suggestions for others? The comments section awaits your input!

To the Line!

Shenna Bellows (U.S. Senate seat, Maine): Bellows (D) is a clear long-shot against popular Sen. Susan Collins (R). But how many Senate candidates are out there praising both Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.)? A former head of the ACLU, Bellows has scored the backing of the DSCC and even outraised Collins during the last three months of 2013. (Collins has since ramped up her fundraising efforts, nearly tripling her total in the most recent quarter.)

Shenna Bellows (Washington Post photo)
Shenna Bellows (Washington Post photo)

Travis Childers (U.S. Senate, Mississippi): The former congressman was once the toast of the national Democratic Party, winning a key special election in a strongly conservative Mississippi district in 2008. He lost in 2010, and there was little fanfare when he entered the race against Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) earlier this year. But if state Sen. Chris McDaniel can upend Cochran in the GOP primary, don’t count Childers out. He’s got the kind of profile Democrats need to win in the Deep South – provided he gets some help, of course.

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Paul Davis (Kansas governor): Kansas is a very conservative state, but that doesn't mean Gov. Sam Brownback (R) is a lock for reelection. His likely opponent is state House Minority Leader Paul Davis (D). A politically youthful 41, Davis has caught the eye of national Democrats, who view Kansas as a sleeper pickup opportunity. Brownback isn't popular, polling shows. And a group allied with him has already hit the airwaves -- a sign Republicans think this could be a real race. Even if he loses, keep an eye on Davis as a potential candidate for another office down the road. Running a competent campaign for governor can be a great platform.

Dan Innis (Washington Post photo)
Dan Innis (Washington Post photo)

Dan Innis (New Hampshire's 1st district): Openly gay Republican House candidates Carl DeMaio and Richard Tisei have gotten more national attention than Innis in part  because they have run for office before. Innis, a first-time candidate with a business/marketing/academic background whose husband persuaded him to run, is challenging well-known former congressman Frank Guinta in the GOP primary. Innis is the underdog, but a well-heeled super PAC supporting him could make things interesting.

Stewart Mills (Minnesota's 8th district): Once compared by a Capitol Hill publication to a political Brad Pitt, Mills certainly looks more dude than congressman, with his shoulder-length hair. Part of the well-known family that owns the Mills Fleet Farm business, Mills is the GOP’s leading candidate in the top-targeted race against freshman Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.). Nolan’s district – long held by former Rep. Jim Oberstar (D) – went for President Obama by six points in 2012.

In this Feb. 6, 2014 file photo, Larry Pressler is seen in Sioux Falls, S.D. (AP Photo/Dirk Lammers, File)
In this Feb. 6, 2014 file photo, Larry Pressler is seen in Sioux Falls, S.D. (AP Photo/Dirk Lammers, File)

Larry Pressler (U.S. Senate, South Dakota): Pressler served three terms in the Senate as a Republican from South Dakota in the 1980s and '90s. Like Bob Smith, who is also on our list, he later flirted with serving in office in another locale – weighing a bid for mayor of Washington, D.C. – but now he’s back in his home state and waging an independent campaign for Senate. Few think he’s got much of a chance in the race against former governor Mike Rounds (R), but this one’s worth keeping an eye on. Pressler had a moment in the spotlight recently when the movie “American Hustle” was in theaters. Pressler rejected a bribe during the sting operation detailed in the film.

The Rhode Island gubernatorial field: Among the contenders: Democrat Clay Pell, the husband of Olympic skater Michelle Kwan and the grandson of a senator; Moderate Party founder Ken Block, running now as a Republican; and the state's first Asian American mayor, Republican Allan Fung. The two frontrunners in the race are Providence Mayor Angel Taveras (D), the city's first Hispanic mayor; and state Treasurer Gina Raimondo (D), a Rhodes Scholar who helped start the state's first venture capital firm.

Jake Rush (Florida's 3rd district): The Republican attorney and former sheriff's deputy challenging Rep. Ted Yoho (R) has garnered a lot of attention for his personal life. Rush is a fan of supernatural, live-action, role-playing (LARP) games, and there are pictures online of him dressed as a vampire and superhero, among other things. Anyone who says politics is boring is clearly not familiar with Florida's 3rd district race.

Bob Smith (U.S. Senate, New Hampshire): The Republican former senator’s political career is certainly one-of-a-kind. He represented New Hampshire for three terms in the House and two terms in the Senate. Anyone with that résumé would seem to be a contender for his old Senate seat. Unfortunately for Smith, he’s become something closer to a gadfly, running for president in 2000 as a Republican, then as a third-party candidate, and later becoming an independent, and then a Republican again. He lost a primary in 2002 and moved to Florida, launching two poorly conceived Senate campaigns there. Now he’s back in the Granite State. We’ll see if he’s taken seriously in the primary against Scott Brown – another state-switching former senator.

Monica Wehby (U.S. Senate, Oregon): If 2014 turns into another anti-Obamacare wave election, Republican Wehby might be the surprise of the Senate. She’s challenging first-term Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) in a state – Oregon – that isn’t quite as blue as a lot of people think it is. Wehby has perhaps the ideal day job to pounce on the Obamacare issue – she’s a pediatric neurosurgeon. And Republicans are pretty high on her. The question is whether it gets bad enough for Democrats that blue-state senators like Merkley might actually lose. Wehby also has to win a primary.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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