Republicans are in shape to easily keep the House of Representatives this fall and probably pick up a few seats, thanks to advantages enjoyed by incumbency, redistricting and off-year turnout.
But with Election Day just two weeks away, there are a number of House races worth keeping an eye on — some of them feature scandal-plagued or otherwise wacky candidates, others are bellwethers that could signify the national mood and yet others are close races poised to go down to the wire.
—Sex, lies, masturbation and an FBI probe
California Republican congressional candidate Carl DeMaio speaking at the National Republican Club of Capitol Hill in Washington on June 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Explosive sexual harassment allegations by a former male staffer against Carl DeMaio — including inappropriate touching and masturbating in front of him — have turned an already nasty race into one of the most closely-watched in the country. It’s between DeMaio, an openly gay Republican who’s backed by House Speaker John Boehner, and freshman Democratic Rep. Scott Peters, for a swing district based in La Jolla, California.
The allegations sparked an emphatic denial from DeMaio, an FBI investigation, and claims that the former aide, Todd Bosnich, broke into his campaign office.
“I don’t think it’s over,” said David Wasserman, the House editor of the Cook Political Report. “Before the scandal he had a very slight edge. Now Peters might have a slight edge.”
—Gays, gremlins and a Republican with nothing to lose
(Photo credit should read: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire URN:21071873)
Republican Anthony Culler is running a long-shot bid to unseat South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, who represents one of the safest Democratic districts in the country. He also thinks gay couples are like “gremlins” and isn’t backing down from the claim, evidently enjoying the national media attention. (His own state party has thrown him under the bus: “Most people learned in kindergarten not to call other people names,” State GOP Chairman Matt Moore said.)
After all, he’s about to get crushed, and the free publicity could land him a gig on right-wing talk radio when it’s all over.
—Bellwethers in New Hampshire
New Hampshire state Rep. Marilinda Garcia speaks during the RNC summer meeting Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, in Boston. (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds)
New Hampshire’s two congressional districts are wacky for their uncanny ability to reflect the national political environment: Both of them flipped from Republicans to Democrats in the 2006 wave, then back to Republicans in the 2010 wave and then back to Democrats in President Obama’s 2012 reelection rout. Now the pendulum has shifted back to the GOP, and the incumbents, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter and Rep. Ann Kuster, are fighting to hold on.
Keep a close eye on the two races come Election Day, one of which features tea party candidate Marilinda Garcia, who’s backed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and the Club For Growth — a rare breed in the 2014 cycle.
“New Hampshire is going to tell us a lot about election night,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at the Cook Political Report. “If Democrats lose both congressional districts Republicans might have a better night than we think. If they split the difference it’s probably going to be a night like we expect. If Democrats hold both then Republicans might be in for a long night.”
—Journo-threatening, indicted Michael Grimm could win in NYC
Rep. Michael Grimm might seem like the poster child for a politician who should be on his way out. The two-term Republican from Staten Island has had an awful year, which included blowback for threatening on camera to break a local reporter in half and throw him off a balcony, and a federal indictment on tax evasion and fraud charges.
To add insult to injury, national Republicans aren’t spending a penny to help the scandal-plagued congressman, while national Democrats are all too happy to pour funds to boost his Democratic opponent, Domenic Recchia.
And yet, Grimm might hold on. It’s not a sure thing — Cook rates it a Tossup.
—Will Steve Southerland blow a safe Republican seat?
U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, speaks at Gulf Coast State College in Panama City, Fla., Monday, Aug. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/The News Herald/Panama City, Fla., Andrew Wardlow)
Rep. Steve Southerland, a member of House leadership, represents a safe Republican district in the eastern Florida Panhandle which voted for John McCain and Mitt Romney by 5 and 6 points, respectively. He should not be in any danger in Republican-friendly 2014.
And yet, Southerland’s campaign has been tarred by a series of unforced errors such as conducting a male-only fundraiser and letting a feud with GOP operatives come to light, as has been reported by Politico. He’s facing a serious challenge from Democrat Gwen Graham, the daughter of well-liked former governor and senator Bob Graham.
—Voters may fall out of love with the “kissing congressman”
Surveillance footage shows Rep. Vance McAllister (R-LA) kissing a staff member, according to the The Ouachita Citizen.
Louisiana Rep. Vance McAllister — dubbed the “kissing congressman” after video unearthed this April of the married freshman passionately kissing one of his female staffers who was not his wife — isn’t really feeling the love at home. His fundraising has been anemic, and he has had to cut an awkward ad featuring his wife apparently forgiving his indiscretions.
McAllister is likely headed to a runoff in Louisiana, and his reelection hopes might hinge on whether his opponent will be Republican Zach Dasher, the nephew of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson, or Democrat Jamie Mayo. The 5th district is so staunchly Republican that McAllister had better hope he’s running against a Democrat.
“There’s a great chance he’ll face another Republican — Zach Dasher. And in that case he’d start off as the underdog,” Wasserman said.
—Hollywood invades the heartland
Clay Aiken speaks to supporters during an election night watch party in Holly Springs, N.C., Tuesday, May 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
In North Carolina, American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken is running a remarkably good campaign to unseat Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers in a deeply conservative district — where the deck is stacked against any Democrat.
“He is pretty clearly a superior debater. But that district was drawn to protect Republicans by carving just about every African American and Democrat out of it as possible,” Wasserman said. “If this district were a fair fight district, Aiken would make for one of the more impressive transitions from Hollywood to politics.”
Across the Rust Belt, a sleepy race involving Minnesota Rep. John Kline has received national attention after HBO comedian Bill Maher targeted the Republican congressman in his “flip a district” campaign. But the safe Republican district isn’t likely to flip, especially in Republican-friendly 2014.
“Bill Maher’s national invasion of the race probably does more harm to [Democrat] Mike Obermuller’s chances of winning than help,” Wasserman said.
—The next Eric Cantor?
House Speaker John Boehner, second from right, and House Republican leaders, meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, as Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kansas, looks on from the right. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Lynn Jenkins, the No. 5 in Republican leadership, could end up as roadkill in Kansas, if Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and Sen. Pat Roberts are in as much trouble as polls suggest. She retains an edge in the Republican-leaning district based in Topeka and Lawrence, but the gap reportedly fell to single digits earlier this month. National Republicans are worried enough to step in and pour resources to help shore up Jenkins.
The Democratic challenger is Margie Wakefield, a family law attorney from Lawrence. One Democratic source familiar with the race said Wakefield is within 5 points of Jenkins. A loss for Republicans is not out of the question, though it would be a stunner and shake up House leadership for the second time in one year, after Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) lost his primary in June.