- House campaigns and super PACs supporting them far outspending 2010 rates
- Most experts see between 50 and 60 races key; 435 being contested
- Two years after tea party propelled historic midterm shift, few in GOP claim that mantle
- GOP presidential running mate Paul Ryan's Medicare reform plan is a wedge, Democrats believe
There may be little drama left in the outcome, but you wouldn't know that by watching the final days of campaigning in the battle for the U.S. House.
Democratic and Republican congressional campaign committees and outside groups for both parties are ramping up spending and committing tens of millions of dollars to those races.
Though Republicans, who control the House by a 242-193 margin, are in good shape to keep the majority, the National Republican Congressional Committee isn't letting up and is on track for record spending -- more than $60 million, according to a committee spokesman.
Underscoring how critical the final weeks of the campaign are, the Republican campaign committee planned to spend $45 million in the six weeks before Election Day. That's the same amount the GOP campaign arm spent altogether in 2010 when Republicans won back control of the House.
Republicans are also getting significant help from outside groups -- several GOP-backed super PACs are targeting races alongside the congressional campaign committee, and they're plugging holes with television ads in some districts where the House GOP campaign arm isn't spending money.
The American Action Network, a conservative policy group, and Congressional Leadership Fund, the Super PAC affiliated with it, spent about $25 million combined in September and October on TV spots, radio, and mail in over 20 House races, mostly defending GOP incumbents.
The YG Action Fund, a super PAC run by former aides to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, has targeted most of its resources toward helping Republican challengers and has spent $10 million to $12 million to help elect those candidates it believes will be the next generation of GOP leaders.
American Crossroads, the super PAC created by former Bush adviser Karl Rove, has targeted $10 million for House races. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has also spent millions in support of House Republican candidates.
Democrats, meanwhile, are working to keep pace with their own spending. Despite an open acknowledgement by many Democrats that regaining control of the House is an uphill battle, they're not cutting back on resources.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and its allies are also dedicating record amounts of money in 2012. The Democratic campaign committee has spent $34 million already, and had a total of $54 million to spend over the course of the campaign.
Last week it took out a $17 million line of credit for the closing days, though a senior Democratic campaign official says it was unlikely the committee would use the full loan.
And while they are quick to complain about the influence of outside money, Democrats are also getting major assistance from groups supporting Democratic candidates.
The House Majority PAC spent $35 million over the 2012 election cycle -- $7 million of which will be spent in the final two weeks.
Andy Stone, the spokesman for House Majority PAC told CNN, "We will make serious gains for sure."
Labor unions, like the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, are also chipping in for television spots and mobilizing members in targeted races.
Battle being played on narrow playing field
All 435 members of the House face voters on Tuesday, but control of the chamber ultimately rests on roughly 50 to 60 competitive races due partly to redistricting.
The number of swing districts has continued to shrink over the years as GOP legislatures shored up their seats and Democratic-led state houses strengthened their party's districts.
Democrats need to pick up 25 Republican seats to flip control, something that House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi repeatedly argues is within reach.
Pelosi conceded Democrats would lose some seats when she told CNN recently that Democrats would need to "net 25 seats," and several veteran campaign analysts said the total number of seats Democrats need to win is between 35 and 40.
Pelosi and other Democrats pointed out that currently there are 58 Republicans representing districts won by Obama in 2008 and hold those up as their blueprint to a successful election night.
But David Wasserman, who analyzes House races for the Cook Political Report, says Democrats are really only waging competitive campaigns in 32 of those districts, which isn't enough to win the House back.
Despite Pelosi's public optimism, multiple other Democratic members and aides say a more realistic goal for the party is to pick up between five and 15 GOP-held seats on election night.
Stuart Rothenberg, an independent campaign analyst, projected last week that Democrats would gain between two and eight seats next Tuesday.
A senior House GOP campaign official told CNN on Wednesday that despite others predicting Republicans will lose seats, they believe they will actually gain between four and six.
A key part of House Democrats' strategy is to target more than a dozen so-called "orphan districts" -- congressional seats in states where the presidential campaign is not active and where Obama is expected to carry the state handily.
For example, Democrats are trying hard to unseat GOP incumbents in California, New York, and Obama's home state of Illinois.
GOP incumbents in those states can't count on momentum from the presidential ticket, and high turnout for Obama works against them.
Right after Republicans took control in 2010, House Speaker John Boehner recognized this weak spot and focused a major effort to support the mostly GOP freshmen in these states. Boehner has personally raised more than $10 million to help build local organizations and traveled extensively to stump for these candidates.
Back in April he raised the prospect of potentially significant losses in orphan districts, his remarks intended to warn Republicans focused on the presidential race and the battle for the Senate not to take GOP control of the House for granted.
The battleground for many of these House races has tilted increasingly toward the northeast and Midwest, after so many moderate Democrats lost in southern districts in the 2010 midterms.
In Illinois, Democrats see opportunities to defeat tea party freshman Rep Joe Walsh, seven-term Rep Judy Biggert, and a moderate Republican freshman Rep. Bob Dold.
Democrats have also set their sights on freshmen Reps. Nan Hayworth, Chris Gibson, Ann Marie Buerkle, and Michael Grimm in New York.
Former President Bill Clinton held a rally on Sunday in New York for Sean Patrick Maloney, his former aide who is running against Hayworth. He also recently held an event for five California Democrats, another area where campaign officials argue they can upset several GOP incumbents.
California Rep. Xavier Becerra, one of Pelosi's top lieutenants, told CNN a combination of wins in orphan districts, combined with pickups sprinkled around the country could translate into a path to the majority.
But even Becerra conceded, "we'd need a wind" to get those kind of gains. With a bitterly contested presidential election in 2012 that's expected to be close it's not the political environment for any kind of wave election.
Because the GOP picked up 63 seats in the 2010 midterms the bulk of their efforts are geared toward protecting incumbents. But there are several places where Republican challengers are on the offense.
Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, noted on CNN's "Starting Point" last week several places where he believes his party can topple some veteran Democratic members, like Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, Rep. Tim Bishop, D-New York, and Rep. John Tierney, D-Massachusetts.
"We have an African-American, as matter of fact, Haitian-American candidate in Utah that's doing a great job. We have a guy, Randy Altschuler, downtown literally in New York, New York City, out on the island, probably is going to win his race. We have Richard Tisei in Massachusetts, a man who's going to win, a Republican in Massachusetts," Sessions said.
Senior GOP officials also point out that they have put traditionally blue seats in Rhode Island and Connecticut in play this cycle, forcing Democrats to spend their own resources defeding those districts.
North Carolina moderate Democrats Larry Kissell and Mike McIntyre, who both survived the GOP tsunami in 2010, are battling strong challenges.
Two years after tea party fuels GOP win, fades as 2010 factor
House Republican candidates are still stressing the core issues that the tea party movement pushed in 2010 -- less government and a focus on cutting federal spending and the deficit, but as one senior GOP strategist working on House races explained, they are "not wearing the tea party label on their sleeves."
Democrats, bolstered by polling that shows that many voters blame the tea party as the reason for gridlock in Washington, continue to try to pin the label on virtually every Republican incumbent and challenger.
House Democrats' campaign chief Rep. Steve Israel, D-New York, argued to reporters last month that the "Tea Party Republican Congress has a 13% approval rating," and maintained Democrats have a chance to regain the majority because "there is a deep sense of buyer's remorse spreading throughout this country."
Even in a solidly blue state like Massachusetts, Democrats are trying to brand Tisei, who already said he would break with his party on taxes, as a tea party Republican.
Democrats say control could hinge on unease over Wisconsin Representative and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's Medicare plan.
Pelosi insists that Romney's pick of Ryan as his running mate was the game-changing moment in the battle for the House.
"Mark your calendar, August 11th, the day he was chosen gave a clarification to the issue of Medicare," Pelosi said about Ryan on CNN earlier this month. "This is a person who has been the destroyer of Medicare guarantee," she added.
Democrats had already been highlighting the Ryan Medicare proposal across the country, but they believe that giving it national prominence helped make their case that the dramatic overhaul the House Budget Committee chairman proposed would prove too alarming to voters.
Democrats hold up their win in a special election last May in upstate New York when Democrat Kathy Hochul linked Ryan's proposal to her GOP opponent Jane Corwin and took over what had been a reliably red seat.
But one top GOP strategist told CNN that that upstate New York special election "was the best thing that ever happened to us. It prepared us, it opened us up, and it gave us a year to explain our plan."
Other Republican aides say the national congressional campaign committee regrouped last fall and developed a response that they used in a special election in Nevada.
Republicans argued it was the Democrats who were gutting Medicare -- by using more than $700 million in reductions for payments to physicians to pay for Obamacare. The GOP candidate Mark Amodei won that election and the strategy has been replicated by candidates ever since.
While Republicans admit Democrats have traditionally had an advantage when it comes to Medicare they believe House GOP candidates have been able to neutralize the issue by not letting charges go unanswered and by tying the debate to the economy.
"They've put all their eggs in a message basket that didn't work," a senior official from the NRCC told CNN.
With the bulk of this cycle's competitive races concentrated in districts represented by the more moderate members of each party, the outcome of this election will mean an even more polarized House in 2013.
The GOP conference will include even more conservatives and the likely loss of more moderate Democrats, whose ranks were already decimated in 2010, will tilt the Democratic caucus further to the left.
A recent study by the Cook Political Report of all congressional districts found that the number of swing districts in the United States went from 164 to 99 in the last 14 years. That decline will undoubtedly have an impact on the ideological divide between the two parties in the House not just this year, but in future elections.
"There's a remarkable reduction in the number of members who have an incentive to compromise," Wasserman told CNN.
Key House race snapshots
Compiled by Adam Levy and Robert Yoon, CNN Political Research
Arizona 1: Jonathan Paton (R) vs. Former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D)
Open Republican-held seat
This redrawn district covers most of northern and eastern Arizona. The Democratic nominee is Ann Kirkpatrick, who was elected in 2008 and was swept out in the Republican wave two years later. The Republican nominee is Jonathan Paton, a former state senator. Kirkpatrick has a sizeable fundraising advantage over Paton, but national Republicans have invested heavily in this race to help close the gap in TV ads. This seat is a top priority for both parties.
Arizona 2: Rep. Ron Barber (D) vs. Martha McSally (R)
This is the district that Democrat Gabrielle Giffords would have run in had she sought a fourth term. Giffords was shot and wounded in January 2011 in Arizona and continues to recover. Her district director Ron Barber was also injured but won a special election to fill her seat when she resigned from the House last January. His opponent is Republican Martha McSally, a retired Air Force colonel and combat pilot. Barber had a significant financial advantage at the start of October though McSally has remained competitive on the airwaves. Still, Barber is expected to win.
Arizona 9: Kyrsten Sinema (D) vs. Vernon Parker (R)
The battle for this new district pits Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, a former state senator, against Republican Vernon Parker, the former mayor of Paradise Valley. Both parties have invested heavily in the race, though a Democratic super PAC has tipped the TV ad war balance of power slightly in the Democrat's favor.
California 30: Rep. Brad Sherman (D) vs. Rep. Howard Berman (D)
One of the nastiest House races of 2012 is between two incumbent Democrats due to redistricting and the state's new primary system, where the top two finishers advanced to the general election. Rep. Brad Sherman has at least one advantage over Rep. Howard Berman: He represents more of the redrawn Sherman Oaks-area district. Sherman won the primary with 42.4% of the vote compared to 32.4% for Berman. The remaining votes were split among five candidates. The bitter race hit a nasty patch in mid October when the two men shouted at each other at a public forum. The moment was caught on video and a police officer could be seen taking the stage preparing to intervene. Both have received heavyweight endorsements. Independents and Republicans could play the decisive role.
California 31: Rep. Gary Miller (R) vs. Bob Dutton (R)
Seven-term incumbent Rep. Gary Miller faces a tough challenge from a fellow Republican in a race also determined by California's new primary system. Miller's opponent is Bob Dutton, a state senator and businessman. Miller does not currently represent any of this redrawn district, while Dutton represents much of it in the state legislature. Money could play a decisive role in the race. At the start of October, Dutton had only $58,000 in the bank, compared to the $816,000 in Miller's war chest as of October 17. Miller edged Dutton in the June top-two primary, 26.7%-24.8%, with the remaining 49% divided among four Democrats. Those Democratic voters will likely decide whether Republican Miller returns to Washington for an eighth term.
California 36: Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R) vs. Raul Ruiz (D)
Rep. Mary Bono Mack, who is seeking an eighth full term in the House, is a frequent target of Democrats hoping to pick off a Republican in a Democratic district. This year, she finds herself fending off a strong challenge from Democrat Raul Ruiz, a Mexican-American, Harvard-educated physician with a compelling personal story. His background could appeal to the district's growing Hispanic population. But Bono Mack has survived strong challenges before and has a relatively moderate voting record. She also prevailed over Ruiz in her first one-on-one matchup, the June "top-two" primary in which they appeared together on the same ballot.
California 44: Rep. Laura Richardson (D) vs. Rep. Janice Hahn (D)
Redistricting has forced another pair of Democratic incumbents to face off this November. Rep. Janice Hahn won a July 2011 special election to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Jane Harman. Rep. Laura Richardson was elected in a 2007 special election to replace the late Juanita Millender-McDonald. Hahn appears to have a clear advantage in the race due in part to an ongoing ethics saga for Richardson that has resulted in a reprimand and $10,000 fine by the House Ethics Committee for campaign finance violations involving her congressional staff. Hahn also enjoyed a huge fundraising and cash-on-hand advantage at the start of October. Hahn trounced Richardson in the primary.
Florida 9: Former Rep. Alan Grayson (D) vs. Todd Long (R)
In just one term in Congress, Democrat Alan Grayson mastered the art of making headlines with his blunt and abrasive rhetorical style. During the debate over health care, he said the Republican health care plan was, "Don't get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly." He also said on CNN that Republicans were "foot-dragging, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals." In a 2010 TV ad, he called his Republican opponent Daniel Webster "Taliban Dan." Although he quickly became a hero among liberals, Grayson went on to lose his bid for a second term by a staggering 18 points.
Grayson is running in a new district in the Orlando suburbs and his Republican opponent is Todd Long, an attorney, small businessman and conservative radio show host.
Florida 18: Rep. Allen West (R) vs. Patrick Murphy (D)
Rep. Allen West is a top target for Democrats The freshman Republican's sharp rhetoric during his first term has not endeared him to colleagues across the aisle. For instance, West last summer emailed Democratic National Committee Chairman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz that she was "the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the U.S. House of Representatives." West's Democratic opponent is Patrick Murphy, a businessman and executive with a construction firm. West has a huge fundraising advantage but Murphy has been running ads and the race is very competitive.
Florida 26: Rep. David Rivera (R) vs. Joe Garcia (D)
The race in Florida's southernmost congressional district is a rematch of 2010, but the dynamics could not be more different. Republican incumbent David Rivera was elected in the Republican wave two years ago. Democrat Joe Garcia, a former Miami-Dade County Democratic party chairman who lost by nine points. The key difference this time around is that Rivera has been dogged by scandal and ethics issues. The district is still Republican-friendly and Garcia enters the final stretch in better position than two years ago.
Georgia 12: Rep. John Barrow (D) vs. Lee Anderson (R)
Democratic incumbent John Barrow is fighting for his political life in this heavily Republican district, which is far better than Republicans expected at this point when they drew the district's boundaries. According to an analysis by the Cook Political Report, President Barack Obama's 2008 vote percentage in Barrow's new district is 44%, compared to 55% under the old lines. Despite the unfavorable political landscape, Barrow has made the race competitive. He has far outpaced his Republican opponent, state Rep. Lee Anderson, in fundraising. He also has been in general election mode from the start compared to Anderson, who emerged weakened from a competitive primary.
Illinois 2: Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D) vs. Brian Woodworth (R)
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s biggest obstacle to a ninth full term in Congress might be himself. Jackson has been on medical leave since June for an undisclosed ailment, which his office later described as a "mood disorder." In mid-October, CNN confirmed that Jackson was the subject of a federal investigation over possible financial improprieties. In late October, Jackson released a campaign robocall to constituents saying he was undergoing treatment for "several serious health issues" and asked for "your continued patience as I work to get my health back." Republican opponent Brian Woodworth, an attorney and university professor, has criticized him for leaving the district unrepresented. Despite his absence, Jackson is expected to win fairly easily.
Illinois 8: Rep. Joe Walsh (R) vs. Tammy Duckworth (D)
Freshman Republican Joe Walsh is high on the list of most endangered GOP incumbents. Walsh barely won his seat in 2010 and redistricting has made it more Democratic. He has the additional misfortune of running in a presidential election year with favorite son Barack Obama heading the ticket for the other party. Walsh also has made headlines with various controversial statements, including most recently one that medical science has advanced to the point where abortions are never necessary to save a woman's life. Democrat Tammy Duckworth, decorated Iraq war veteran, led in fundraising and enters the final stretch with an advantage.
Illinois 10: Rep. Robert Dold (R) vs. Brad Schneider (D)
Republican Robert Dold won this Democratic-friendly district in the Republican wave of 2010, replacing fellow Republican Mark Kirk, who ran for the U.S. Senate. The redrawn district is more Democratic-friendly, but Dold has kept the race competitive. His Democratic opponent is businessman Brad Schneider, who emerged battered from a competitive primary. Dold entered the final month of the campaign with a huge cash advantage but Schneider has benefited from sizable TV ad buys from the national Democratic party and from a pro-Democratic super PAC, but he still trails the overall TV ad dollars invested by Dold, the national Republican party and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Iowa 3: Rep. Tom Latham (R) vs. Rep. Leonard Boswell (D)
Iowa was one of 10 states to lose seats in Congress because of redistricting, setting up a member-on-member showdown between two veteran lawmakers in a merged Des Moines-area district. Democrat Leonard Boswell represented much of this new district in the late 1990s. Republican Tom Latham has a considerable fundraising advantage due in part to his close friendship with House Speaker John Boehner. The cash advantage is apparent on the airwaves, where Latham has outspent Boswell, even when counting the considerable assistance the Democrat has received from his national party. Boswell is no stranger to tight races. He survived the Republican wave of 2010. The presidential race will boost Democratic turnout, but his new district has many more "red" counties than the one he'd represented for the past 10 years. The race will be competitive.
Iowa 4: Rep. Steve King (R) vs. Christie Vilsack (D)
Republican incumbent Steve King's bid for a sixth term in Congress will be his toughest. King won re-election in his old western Iowa district with 66% of the vote in 2010, and he's never dipped below 59% in any of his previous races. This year, he faces a new district and a tough new challenger in Democrat Christie Vilsack, Iowa's former first lady and the wife of U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The good news for King is that his enormous new district in the northwest part of the state is comprised mostly of counties won by John McCain in 2008. King has had a fundraising advantage over Vilsack. But Vilsack is the strongest possible candidate Democrats could have fielded. She has been competitive financially. The political makeup of the district is still a bit of a reach for a Democrat.
Louisiana 3: Rep. Charles Boustany (R) vs. Rep. Jeff Landry (R)
As in California, redistricting and a "top-two" primary system have forced two incumbent lawmakers of the same party into a November showdown. Republican Charles Boustany, a surgeon elected in 2004, faces freshman Republican Jeff Landry, an attorney and businessman, former police officer and tea party favorite. Boustany represents significantly more of the new district than Landry, but the freshman proved he is capable of pulling off surprises when he defeated the better-known former Louisiana House speaker in the 2010 primary. Under state law, the November election will serve as an open primary, in which the top two finishers will advance to a December runoff if no one gets a majority.
Maryland 6: Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R) vs. John Delaney (D)
By all accounts, Republican Roscoe Bartlett's bid for an 11th term appears to be his last. The long-time western Maryland representative was a top target for Democrats who redrew the district last year. As a result, his once-safe seat now stretches from the state's westernmost point to include a sizable piece of heavily Democratic Montgomery County and now reaches almost to the District of Columbia border. His Democratic opponent is John Delaney, a wealthy businessman. Delaney pulled an upset in the Democratic primary over Rob Garagiola, a state senator with a string of endorsements from party establishment-types, including Gov. Martin O'Malley. Bartlett has little hope of pulling out a miracle.
Massachusetts 4: Joe Kennedy III (D) vs. Sean Bielat (R)
Open Democratic-held seat
When Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island left office in January 2011, it ended his family's 64-year streak of service in Congress that began with the swearing-in of freshman congressman John F. Kennedy. In 2012, Democratic congressional candidate Joe Kennedy III, grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, hopes to begin a new streak by replacing retiring Rep. Barney Frank in the 4th Congressional District. Kennedy, a former prosecutor and Peace Corps member, is heavily favored to win; no member of his family has ever lost a race in Massachusetts. His opponent is Republican Sean Bielat, a businessman and Marine Corps reservist.
Massachusetts 6: Rep. John Tierney (D) vs. Richard Tisei (R)
Rep. John Tierney is in danger of becoming the first Democrat to lose a U.S. House race in Massachusetts since 1994. The eight-term incumbent has been dogged by a financial scandal involving his wife and her brothers and an illegal gambling operation. The Republican nominee is Richard Tisei, a former state senator who is openly gay. Tierney has been pounded with more than $3 million in ads this cycle from Tisei, the national Republican Party and pro-Republican groups, eager to defeat a Democrat in Massachusetts. The district is Democratic but the ongoing scandal appears to have taken a toll. A September Boston Globe/University of New Hampshire poll had Tisei with 37%, Tierney with 30% and 30% undecided.
Minnesota 6: Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) vs. Jim Graves (D)
Tea party favorite Michele Bachmann was a shoo-in for re-election when she folded up her presidential campaign in January. Ten months later, Bachmann still has the advantage but she faces a tough challenger in Jim Graves, a wealthy businessman. Graves has waged a competitive race in October, spending $1.2 million in TV ads, compared to $1.7 million for Bachmann. The conservative congresswoman has never posted huge numbers on Election Night, but redistricting has made her district slightly more Republican. Defeating a high-profile conservative like Bachmann would be a nice win for Democrats, but she is not at the top of the list of vulnerable Republican incumbents.
Nevada 4: Steven Horsford (D) vs. Danny Tarkanian (R)
There's a competitive race in Nevada's newest congressional district. The nominees are Democrat Steven Horsford, the state senate majority leader, and Republican Danny Tarkanian, a businessman and son of UNLV basketball coaching legend Jerry Tarkanian. The younger Tarkanian was a 2010 U.S. Senate candidate but placed third in the Republican primary. The two candidates have been fairly evenly matched in terms of fundraising as well as the assistance they've received from their national parties and from outside groups in terms of TV ads. The district leans slightly Democratic. The outcome could be affected by competitive races for president and U.S. Senate higher up on the ballot.
New Hampshire 1: Rep. Frank Guinta (R) vs. Former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D)
As was the case in 2010, Republican Frank Guinta and Democrat Carol Shea-Porter face off in the battle for New Hampshire's 1st Congressional District. This time, Guinta is the incumbent and Shea-Porter is the challenger. Shea-Porter was elected in the Democratic wave of 2006 and served two terms before losing to Guinta in 2010, 54%-42%. The two are fairly evenly matched in fundraising. The race is competitive. A strong showing by Obama or Romney at the top of the ticket will be an important factor.
New Hampshire 2: Rep. Charlie Bass (R) vs. Ann McLane Kuster (D)
Republican incumbent Charlie Bass faces Ann McLane Kuster. Kuster lost to Bass in the general election in 2010 but is running again, and she has outraised Bass, though they started October with roughly the same amount in the bank. The Democrat has far outspent her opponent on the airwaves even though the national Republican Party has invested funds on behalf of Bass. A WMUR/University of New Hampshire poll from early October had Kuster at 38%, Bass 35%, with 25% unsure. The district is more Democratic than the state's other region, which works in Kuster's favor.
New York 24: Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R) vs. Former Rep. Dan Maffei (D)
Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle was elected in the Republican wave of 2010 and now has to defend her seat from the man she defeated. Democrat Dan Maffei, a longtime Capitol Hill staffer, won this upstate New York district in 2008 after it had been in Republican hands for almost 30 years. He lost the seat to nurse and tea party favorite Buerkle in one of the closest House races that year. The two have been evenly matched in both fundraising and TV ad spending. The district now leans slight more Democratic, which doesn't help Buerkle, who only managed to win this seat by about 600 votes.
North Carolina 7: Rep. Mike McIntyre (D) vs. David Rouzer (R)
Democratic Mike McIntyre is running a competitive race despite a newly redrawn district that skews heavily Republican. The Republican nominee is David Rouzer, a state senator. McIntyre, an eight-term incumbent, leads in fundraising and has kept even with ad spending by pro-Republican outside groups and the national Republican party. Rouzer has stayed off the airwaves. Similar to fellow southern Democrat John Barrow in Georgia, McIntyre is showing surprisingly strong signs of life in a district that was essentially drawn to end his career.
Ohio 9: Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D) vs. Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher (R)
Samuel Wurzelbacher, better known as "Joe the Plumber," became a conservative icon in the 2008 presidential race when he challenged then-candidate Obama on tax policy at a campaign event. Republican John McCain even mentioned him during the third presidential debate. Four years later, Wurzelbacher is running for Congress in a quixotic race against 15-term incumbent Democrat Marcy Kaptur, who is a safe bet for re-election. Kaptur handily defeated fellow Democrat Dennis Kucinich in a primary earlier this year.
Ohio 16: Rep. Jim Renacci (R) vs. Rep. Betty Sutton (D)
Ohio's most competitive House race pits freshman Republican incumbent Jim Renacci against three-term Democratic incumbent Betty Sutton. Since August, the two have benefited from about $2 million in ad spending on their behalf from parties and outside groups, while Renacci's campaign has about doubled Sutton's campaign in ad spending. the merged district, located in northeastern Ohio near, but not including, Cleveland, Akron, and Canton, leans Republican but the race remains up for grabs.
Tennessee 4: Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R) vs. Eric Stewart (D)
Republican physician Scott DesJarlais was elected to Congress in the Republican wave of 2010, defeating Democratic Rep. Lincoln Davis. He was a safe bet for re-election until a recent revelation that he had pressured a girlfriend to have an abortion a decade ago. DesJarlais was separated from his wife at the time. The Democratic nominee is Eric Stewart, a state senator. He has begun making an issue of the incident but the impact on DesJarlais' campaign in this rural, conservative district remains unclear.
Texas 23: Rep. Francisco Canseco (R) vs. Pete Gallego (D)
Republican Francisco "Quico" Canseco is one of many freshman members elected in the GOP wave of 2010 who now finds himself in a competitive race for a second term. Canseco was a wealthy commercial real estate developer when he won his third bid for this seat two years ago, defeating Democratic incumbent Ciro Rodriguez. After a legal battle over the redistricting process, Canseco ended up with a district that is slightly more Democratic -- President Obama carried it in 2008 with 51%, according to the Cook Political Report.The Democratic nominee is Pete Gallego, a state representative who defeated former Rep. Rodriguez in the primary. Hispanics make up 66% of voters.
Utah 4: Rep. Jim Matheson (D) vs. Mia Love (R)
As Utah's only Democratic member of Congress, Jim Matheson is used to close races. He barely squeaked by in 2010 with 50% of the vote. This year may prove to be Matheson's toughest race yet. His Republican opponent is Mia Love, the mayor of Saratoga Springs who would become the first female African-American Republican to serve in Congress. Love is a rising star in the party and was giving a prominent speaking role at this year's Republican National Convention. The two have been relatively evenly matched in fundraising. This is one of the most competitive and highest profile House races in the country.
Wisconsin 1: Rep. Paul Ryan (R) vs. Rob Zerban (D)
Being named Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate has not affected Paul Ryan's chances at getting re-elected to the House. He is a safe bet for against Kenosha County Supervisor Rob Zerban.
Ryan has been asked multiple times whether he's hedging his bets by running for re-election while also running for vice president but the question is irrelevant. Ryan was tapped for the ticket after the deadline had passed to have his name removed from the House ballot. He's far from the first running mate to run for two jobs at once. Vice President Joe Biden was in the same position in 2008.
Wisconsin 7: Rep. Sean Duffy (R) vs. Pat Kreitlow (D)
Rep. Sean Duffy was one of the higher-profile freshmen elected in the Republican wave of 2010. He was a former Ashland County district attorney and tea party favorite, but he was probably best known for his work as a professional lumberjack athlete and ESPN commentator and as a cast member on MTV's reality show "The Real World." This year he faces a tough challenge from Pat Kreitlow, a former state senator and former local TV news anchor. Redistricting gave Duffy a more-GOP-leaning district. He also enjoys a financial advantage. Despite these advantages, this remains the most competitive House race in Wisconsin.