Key races shape up in the midterm battle for control

  • Updated: March 1, 2014 - 10:24 PM

A flag blows in a breeze on the Russell Senate Office building on the fifteenth day of the US government shutdown in Washington D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. The fiscal showdown in Washington entered its final stages as the House and Senate prepared competing plans that would end the 15-day-old government shutdown and prevent the U.S. from missing promised payments. Photographer: Julia Schmalz/Bloomberg

Photo: Julia Schmalz, Bloomberg

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In Washington, the focus is on the Senate: Who will control it after November’s elections? In the House, Republicans hope to extend their margin by emphasizing the health care overhaul’s rocky start, while Democrats prefer to focus on the improving economy. And states continue to dominate the policy front as Washington remains gridlocked. That means the landscape for gubernatorial elections, usually decided by a blend of national and state-specific issues, is even more volatile. As early voting begins next week, here’s a look at key races:


Florida: In what could be the most expensive governor’s race in the nation, Republican Gov. Rick Scott is trailing former Gov. Charlie Crist in polls. Scott is a former businessman who will pour his vast personal wealth into his campaign. But Crist is still a major player in Florida politics and will likely be able to raise the money necessary to tackle Scott. But as a GOP politician who ran for Senate in 2010 as an independent and then made the full switch to the Democratic Party, Crist has his fair share of political baggage, and the GOP won’t let voters forget it.


Pennsylvania: Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who has approval ratings in the 20s and low 30s, tops Democrats’ target list. He was among a new crop of Republican governors elected across the industrial heartland in 2010. The Democratic primary could be just as interesting. The crowded field — no fewer than eight candidates have entered the field — includes businessman Tom Wolf, who has pledged to spend $10 million on the race.


Texas: Republican Gov. Rick Perry is retiring, setting up one of the most interesting contests of the year. State Sen. Wendy Davis, a rising Democratic superstar after filibustering the state’s abortion restrictions, is expected to be better funded than many Texas Democrats in the past. Still, she faces an uphill challenge. The GOP candidate, Attorney General Greg Abbott, has almost $30 million in the bank.


Wisconsin: Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican who might have 2016 aspirations, survived a recall attempt less than two years ago. Democrats say challenger Mary Burke, a former Trek Bicycle exec, could make it competitive by revisiting the “Republican war on women” theme.


Other heartland states — Illinois, Ohio, Michigan: An anemic economy and a pension debt crisis have made Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois vulnerable. He could be in for a tough fight against any GOP nominee. In Michigan, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder could face Democratic former Rep. Mark Schauer, who would try to capitalize on the incumbent’s record on guns and abortion. In Ohio, Republican Gov. John Kasich took on public employee unions in 2011 but upset Tea Party conservatives by accepting federal dollars to expand Medicaid. Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald is making his first run at statewide office.


Florida 13: What happens here during a special election on March 11 is seen as a possible indicator of how the midterm elections could break. Republican first-time candidate David Jolly and Democrat Alex Sink are vying to fill the seat held for 43 years by Republican Bill Young, who died in October. Jolly worked for Young in Washington; Sink narrowly lost the governor’s race to Rick Scott in 2010. A Sink win would be interpreted as an indication that Democrats can make inroads in other swing districts.


Arizona 2: Democratic Rep. Ron Barber is seeking re-election in a likely rerun of his 2012 race against retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally, who is favored to win the Aug. 26 primary. Barber, an aide to former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, won by fewer than 2,500 votes in their first faceoff and Republicans hope McSally is the solution to their gender gap: A woman warrior with a compelling personal story. Barber, who was wounded in the attack on Giffords, carries her mantle but casts himself as someone with an independent streak.


Massachusetts 6: Democrat John Tierney took office in 1997 but almost lost in 2012 after his wife’s conviction for her role in her brother’s illegal gambling venture. He faces challengers in the Sept. 9 primary, including Seth Moulton, a Marine who served four tours in Iraq. The winner could face Republican Richard Tisei, a former state legislator who lost a close race to Tierney in 2012 and would be the first openly gay Republican elected to Congress. The state’s Republican Party hasn’t won a U.S. House race since 2002.


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