Originally published in Red Racing Horses.
There is not really a consistent theme to this batch of states. From the
Great Plains and the Rust Belt to the Lonestar State, this preview
covers a lot of ground. The following states are included in this
North Dakota * Indiana * Wisconsin * Minnesota * Texas
Senate: Republicans should have
put this one away awhile ago, but for a variety of factors it is closer
than we would have anticipated six months ago. Rep. Rick Berg (R) faces
Heidi Heitkamp (D) in a race that has significant tightening. Berg wants
this to be a national contest, while Heitkamp is trying to keep this
affair local. The good news? Heitkamp may have peaked already, giving
Republicans time to regroup before election day.
Rep. Berg runs for US Senate, Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer
(R) is running for Berg's seat. Cramer faces Pam Gulleson (D), a former
state Representative. Gulleson actually outraised Cramer and his
Republican opponents for some time as the action centered on the
Republican primary. Nevertheless, Cramer now has unified party support,
and he is now outraising Gulleson. The only public poll of the race
(besides the controversial Pharos Group, which had him leading) at the
beginning of October had him leading by a substantial margin.
Republicans may have the edge in this state, but the race here is
non-partisan. Still, Republicans endorsed Mandan school board member
Kirsten Baesler, while the 2010 Democratic Senate candidate Tracy Potter
is also in the running. The primary had Democrats splitting
63% of the total vote, so this is still winnable even by a candidate
like Potter who got blown out in 2010 (h/t shamlet).
President: President Obama won Indiana in 2008, but nobody expects it to remain in the Democratic column this cycle.
Democrats had already recruited a strong enough candidate in Rep. Joe
Donnelly, but Indiana is always an uphill climb for Democrats. However,
when Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who primaried incumbent Senator Dick
Lugar this cycle, started talking about rape, it never ends well. Now
Mourdock is locked in a close race with Donnelly, who is capitalizing on
the comments to the fullest. This race has definitely tightened as
election day approaches.
Governor: The gubernatorial race has
featured less fireworks than the Senate race, with polls showing a
consistent lead for Rep. Mike Pence (R) over former Speaker of the IN
House John Gregg (D) and Survivor star Rupert Boneham (L).
Before he ran for Senate, Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) was the incumbent here.
Now after redistricting his base in union-friendly Kokomo is gone,
while State Rep. Jackie Walorski (R) has a strong pool of votes from
South Bend. This district is more Republican-friendly than ever before,
and Democratic nominee Brendan Mullen has faced some challenges on his
residency that could prove problematic.
redistricting, some Republican parts of the district were lost to Todd
Young in neighboring IN-09 in exchange for more competitive turf in the
southern half of the district. This is still a very winnable seat for
incumbent Rep. Larry Bucshon (R), who faces a challenge from former
state Rep. Dave Crooks (D). Nevertheless, the "bloody eighth" has a
reputation for throwing out incumbents, so it is worth keeping an eye
IN-Supt.: The incumbent here is Republican Tony Bennett, and
he had made a major push for education reform during his tenure. His
campaign has outraised his opponent, Democrat Glenda Ritz, about five
times over, and it is unclear that the union-backers of Ritz are really
representative of the broader, Republican-leaning electorate of Indiana.
In the presidential race, Wisconsin will be one of the most closely
watched battleground states on election night. Republicans are obviously
banking on this being the home state of Rep. and VP nominee Paul Ryan,
on top of a strong organization from the recall effort of Gov. Scott
Senate: After a contentious primary, former Governor
Tommy Thompson (R) was left with little money and a battered image.
While he was still considered favored with a record of bipartisanship in
Wisconsin, his opponent Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) took the opportunity to
run an energetic campaign while Thompson coasted. The result is a
significantly tightened race that was Thompson's to lose. Baldwin, who
is lesbian and represented Dane County, may not be the best fit
statewide for Wisconsin, but this could be a race that really hammers
home that campaigns matter.
WI-07: When Sean Duffy launched an
energetic bid against Rep. David Obey (D) in 2010, few gave him much of a
chance. His strong campaign pressured Obey into retirement and gave
Duffy an opportunity to win this congressional seat in 2010. Now Rep.
Duffy (R) faces former state Senator Pat Kreitlow (D). This seat was
significantly improved in redistricting, becoming a few points more
Republican. That plus incumbency should assist Duffy in holding down
WI-08: Rep. Reid Ribble unseated incumbent Rep. Steve
Kagen (D) in 2010. Kagen passed on a rematch, leaving the nod to
business consultant Jamie Wall. The district changed little in
redistricting, but it has shown a natural swinginess on the presidential
level. Ribble has consistently outraised Wall and has the advantage of
incumbency in a race that really has not garnered substantial attention.
House: There is some fluidity with 18 incumbents having retired, but
Republican redistricting means the body should return a Republican
majority for at least this cycle. Republicans currently have a 58-39
majority, with one vacancy and one independent.
After 2010, Republicans claimed a narrow 19-14 majority in the state
Senate. However, after a series of recalls, three Republican state
Senators were defeated, giving Democrats a narrow 17-15 majority (with
one vacancy) in the body. Republicans are in a solid position to reclaim
the majority after redistricting.
Who would have thought even two weeks ago we would include a blurb
about Minnesota for the presidential race? This is now a single-digit
affair in recent polling, but the problem in Minnesota is similar to
that of Democrats in Georgia- how do Republicans crack 49 or 50% here?
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) faces the usual well-funded challenge, this
time from DINO and hotel magnate Jim Graves (D). Graves is running as
everything to everybody, which makes sense- no Democrat would win this
district if they had to defend a voting record. Like other Bachmann
challengers, this will probably be close, and Bachmann is counting on
the strong red tendencies of Anoka and other blood-red counties to pull
her over the top.
MN-08: The most competitive race in Minnesota
is the eighth congressional district, where Rep. Chip Cravaack (R) won
in one of the biggest congressional upsets of 2010. Now he faces former
Rep. Rick Nolan (D), central Minnesota Congressman back in the 1970s.
Nolan has boasted a small single-digit lead in most public polling of
the race, often within the margin of error.
Republicans won this chamber in 2010 after a red tide swept in a new
wave of freshmen. Now Republicans are on defense as redistricting has
thrown open seats across both parties as incumbents jockey for new state
Senate or county commission seats. Republicans currently hold a 72-62
majority and the advantage of incumbency in many races, but Democrats
have a stronger state party apparatus and may have an edge on the
State Senate: Like the state House, the state
Senate is a tossup. Republicans had a 37-30 majority going into the last
session, the first time since 1974. Republicans in the Senate were
roiled by a sex scandal and leadership struggles last legislative
session, but with redistricting changing up the map control could go
either way. Each side has the same advantages as in the House:
Republicans have incumbents, particularly in tough metro seats, that
could help them get over the edge, while Democrats simply have an
Amendment 1: The constitutional amendment to
define marriage between a man and a woman is also up there with MN-08
in competitiveness. The Vote No campaign, MN United For All Families, is
well-funded and well-organized. However, some of the more socially
conservative, farmer-labor DFL types are expected to defect, just as you
will see a number of suburban defections for Republicans. Polling is
always unpredictable on marriage amendments, and this one could go
Amendment 2: The numbers for photo ID have tightened
as election day approaches and Democrats jump onto their party's
position, but this constitutional amendment is expected to pass easier
than the marriage amendment.
The good news is that Galveston County is both reddening and growing,
so Ron Paul's old district is trending Republican. However, Democrats
found a strong recruit here, former Rep. Nick Lampson, who represented
both minority-heavy parts of Jefferson County in his first stint in
Congress and NASA country after Tom Delay's scandal in a return bid.
State Rep. Randy Weber is essentially a generic conservative Republican
running against President Obama, while Lampson emphasizes bipartisanship
as a Democrat running in an uphill district.
TX-23: This seat
is seen as the most competitive congressional race in Texas, with Rep.
Francisco 'Quico' Canseco (R) facing State Rep. Pete Gallego (D).
Gallego was favored by national groups in a contentious Democratic
primary with former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez; while he won, he has had
difficulties keeping his campaign staff around. Turnout is a big issue
here, with lots of low-turnout Hispanic voters without a strong
Democratic apparatus to get them to the polls. Interesting piece of
trivia: after scheduling conflicts, this is probably the first time a
debate was only held in Spanish, never in English, for a congressional