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Roll Call

South Region Roundup

Florida! Florida! Florida! Hotbed of Political Activity This Cycle

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
In Rep. Steve Southerland’s first re-election, he faces a more African-American and Democratic electorate, and Florida GOP operatives fret that the get-out-the-vote effort of President Barack Obama’s campaign will make it a difficult test for the vulnerable Republican.

ALABAMA | ARKANSAS
FLORIDA | GEORGIA
KENTUCKY | LOUISIANA
MISSISSIPPI | NORTH CAROLINA
SOUTH CAROLINA | TENNESSEE
VIRGINIA

 

Alabama

Gov. Robert Bentley (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 9
2008 Presidential Vote:
McCain 60%/Obama 39%

House

6th district | Incumbent: Spencer Bachus (R)

10th term (Uncontested) |
Outlook: Safe Republican

Bachus, chairman of the Financial Services Committee, was nervous about his primary, and he ended up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend his seat. But in the end, Bachus avoided a runoff with his nearest rival, state Sen. Scott Beason, and will easily win in November.


Arkansas

Gov. Mike Beebe (D)

2012 Electoral Votes: 6
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 59%/Obama 39%

House

1st district | Incumbent: Rick Crawford (R)

1st term (52 percent) | Outlook: Leans Republican

Crawford has the advantage of incumbency in this largely rural, comfortably conservative district. He connects well here, having been a farm broadcaster covering agricultural news for years. But connection or not, he’s in trouble this cycle. Crawford pulled in an embarrassing $68,000 in individual contributions in the fourth quarter of last year.

Democrats are bullish on their prospects. There are three candidates running: district prosecuting attorney Scott Ellington, state Rep. Clark Hall and economics professor Gary Latanich. Given that Ellington and Latanich just filed in the past few weeks, we won’t know how serious they are until we see their first-quarter fundraising reports. “We are optimistic about this district no matter which candidate emerges from the race,” one national Democrat familiar with the state said. “We can win this seat in November.”

Maybe. But President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular in the Razorback State, and it won’t be easy for Democrats seeking federal office to win, no matter how in tune they are with their potential constituents.

4th district | Open seat: Mike Ross (D) is retiring.

Outlook: Likely Republican

Ross’ decision to retire one cycle early to prepare for a gubernatorial run in 2014 likely means this southern Arkansas district has moved to the Republican column.

The district became more favorable for Republicans through redistricting, and it’s unclear just how serious the three Democrats who filed to run are. Democrats’ best bet is probably Hot Springs attorney Q. Byrum Hurst Jr., whose father was a longtime state Senator from the region. The other Democratic contenders are state Sen. Gene Jeffress and businessman DC Morrison.

The GOP has Tom Cotton, a member of the Army Reserve and former business consultant for McKinsey & Co., who is seen as a top recruit by national strategists because of his biography, contacts and fundraising prowess.

“Everybody better get their sneakers on if they’re going to catch Tom Cotton,” said one Republican consultant with knowledge of the race.

Beth Anne Rankin, who lost to Ross in 2010, is also running for the GOP nomination. She is a serious contender with a solid base of name ID from her last run. Democrats see their candidate, whoever he ends up being, as having a real shot against Rankin. Winning against Cotton, however: not so much.


Florida

Gov. Rick Scott (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 29
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 51%/McCain 48%

Senate

Incumbent: Bill Nelson (D)

2nd term (60 percent) | Outlook: Leans Democratic

Nelson is the favorite to win re-election in this key presidential state for a number of reasons. The lack of a really strong GOP opponent and his $8.4 million in the bank are just two of them.

Republicans will paint the 69-year-old former astronaut as a stooge of President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Nelson will sell himself as an independent voice fighting for the people of Florida and the issues they care about. Watch for the big issues Nelson takes up over the next few months to be focused on cementing his Sunshine State connections.

But with Obama expected to spend perhaps $100 million in Florida, and his GOP opponent likely a similarly huge sum, Nelson and his challenger may find it hard to break through. That benefits Nelson, who is likely to outperform Obama in the state anyway.

The race for the Republican nomination has narrowed to a nasty, vindictive fight between Rep. Connie Mack IV and former Sen. George LeMieux. After a Miami Herald article revealed Mack had a history of financial troubles and unpaid bills, was in a bar brawl when he was younger and had other legal issues, LeMieux slammed Mack on his character. He called the Congressman the “Charlie Sheen of Florida politics.”

Mack’s campaign manager, Jeff Cohen, knocked LeMieux in an open letter released the same day, emphasizing the former Senator’s link to former Gov. Charlie Crist (I), who is politically toxic among Republican primary voters and for whom LeMieux worked.

Mack’s name recognition and fundraising base means he has the edge in the contest, but if LeMieux can up his fundraising game, he could win the nomination. Either way, it’s going to be a nasty slog.

And because both have staked out conservative turf in the primary process, it’s going to take some effort on the nominee’s part to pivot back to the center.

House

2nd district | Incumbent: Steve Southerland (R)

1st term (54 percent) | Outlook: Leans Republican

Tallahassee anchors this district, but the redistricting process at the state Capitol didn’t shore up the vulnerable lawmaker. Southerland unseated longtime Rep. Allen Boyd (D) by a comfortable 13 points, but in his first re-election, he faces a more African-American and Democratic electorate.

Florida Republican operatives fret that the expected get-out-the-vote effort of President Barack Obama’s campaign makes it a tough slog for the former funeral home executive.

Democrats are bullish on state Rep. Leonard Bembry, a farmer who has been endorsed by the fiscally conservative Blue Dogs. But former state Sen. Al Lawson — who ran in the Democratic primary in 2010 — got in the race last month, and Bembry, who is white, now has a very serious primary challenge from an African-American in a district where the black vote will matter.

No matter who wins the primary, and either of the Democrats could, Southerland is an incumbent. And there’s the wild card of former state Sen. Nancy Argenziano, a former Republican who is running as an Independent.

The district is one of Democrats’ better opportunities for a pickup in the state, but it’s not close to Tossup territory yet.

3rd district | Incumbent: Cliff Stearns (R)

12th term (71 percent) | Outlook: Safe Republican

Democrats don’t have any shot in this district, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be an easy stroll to another term for Stearns.

One of his primary opponents, Clay County Clerk of Court James Jett, accused Stearns of offering him incentives to drop out. Stearns denies the claims but is reportedly under investigation by the FBI.

The Congressman faces a real primary challenge from state Sen. Steve Oelrich, who is prohibited by term limits from running again for his legislative seat. That’s all the more real now that these allegations have been leveled against the Congressman.

About a third of the district’s population is new to Stearns, so he’ll have to introduce himself to a lot of new voters and hope their first impression of him isn’t tinged with the whiff of scandal. Stearns doesn’t live in the redrawn 3rd, but he plans to move there.

6th district | Open seat: John Mica (R) is running in the 7th district.

Outlook: Safe Republican

The Republican primary has just begun for this seat, which has been represented by Mica for years. Given that Mica decided to run in the 7th — where he lives — on Feb. 10, more candidates are still likely to jump in the race for this coastal Republican district that stretches from the Canaveral National Seashore through Daytona Beach up north past St. Augustine.

Former restaurant executive Craig Miller switched to this race after dropping his Senate bid. But he’s hardly the frontrunner.

Also in the race: attorney Ron DeSantis, 33, who served as a Navy JAG officer. Closely eyeing the race is state Rep. Fred Costello, a former Ormond Beach mayor who strategists say would be a very formidable contender.

In the end, if Mica doesn’t move back to this district, whichever Republican can raise the most money will probably win.

7th district | Member vs. Member: Sandy Adams (R) and John Mica (R)

1st term (60 percent); 10th term (69 percent) | Outlook: Safe Republican

If no one blinks, this one could be a bruiser.

Adams and Mica were both drawn into this district, but there was an easy out. Mica’s current district makes up 72 percent of the redrawn 6th. Adams, a tea party favorite who currently represents just more than half of the 7th, announced in late January that she was running here. She was under the impression that Mica wouldn’t run here.

Florida Republicans familiar with the new district said that while it is a better fit for Adams, Mica probably has the early edge given the $860,000 that he had in the bank at the end of last year and the fact that he’s chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Still, the National Republican Congressional Committee can’t be happy about this primary, which has the potential to divide along tea party vs. establishment lines.

There are persistent rumors in Florida GOP circles that Mica might relent and run in the 6th to avoid a primary, or retire. But Mica’s aides insist he’s in the race in the 7th to win it.

A recent poll by respected Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies, commissioned by Adams, found Mica led
46 percent to 30 percent.

But Mica’s lead appears surmountable with the proper messaging. When interviewers added neutral biographical information about both candidates, Adams took the lead in the head-to-head matchup, 42 percent to
39 percent. That said, she’ll need to raise a lot of money to get her message out there.

The winner of the Republican primary will be heavily favored to win in November.

9th district | New seat

Outlook: Likely Democratic

Congress, get ready! Former Rep. Alan Grayson, the outspoken liberal firebrand, is the likely Democratic nominee in this new Orlando-area district that would have voted 60 percent for Barack Obama in 2008.

The central Florida region has seen a considerable increase in its Democratic-
friendly Puerto Rican population in recent years, and that’s reflected in this new district, where
41 percent of the voting-age population is Hispanic.

Grayson, who has a penchant for articulating his progressive views in potent, punchy phrases, has had extraordinary fundraising success. He had $637,000 in the bank at the end of last year and no declared primary opponents.

The attorney is perhaps best-known for an inspired piece of political theater: his announcement on the House floor that he had found the GOP plan for health care reform. He declared that it was: “Don’t get sick. And if you do get sick, die quickly.”

Republicans hope his outspoken views that sometimes veer into hyperbole end up turning off more moderate voters.

If the GOP can recruit a moderate Puerto Rican candidate to run, perhaps this could be a contest. Florida operatives mention Osceola County Commissioner John “Q” Quiñones as a potential GOP candidate. He told Roll Call that he was seriously considering a bid.

But for now, Grayson, who lost to Rep. Daniel Webster (R) in 2010 by an embarrassing 18 points, looks to have a surprisingly comfortable path back to the House.

10th district | Incumbent: Daniel Webster (R)

1st term (56 percent) | Outlook: Likely Republican

The lines of this district give Florida Democrats heartburn. They see Webster as a vulnerable incumbent and former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings as a top-tier Democratic candidate. But Webster was shored up in the redraw, and his district is Republican-leaning.

The narrative against Webster, who served in the Florida Legislature for 28 years before unseating then-Rep. Alan Grayson (D) in 2010, will be that he’s a career politician ensconced in the right-wing Republican world. Democrats will attempt to create a strong contrast between him and Demings, whom they’ll paint as a public servant beyond partisanship who has worked her whole career to serve and protect the people of Orlando.

It could be a very effective narrative, and by all accounts, she’s an incredibly solid candidate with top-notch fundraising ability.

Still, the current lines make it a difficult journey to unseat Webster. He is known as a nice guy and a savvy politician who has been underestimated his whole career but always seems to come out on top. He’ll emphasize his history as a small-business man and focus on jobs and the economy on the trail.

What gives Florida Democrats hope, however, is the expectation that the courts will step in to change this district in particular for violating the Fair Districts state constitutional standard, which prohibits, among other things, drawing Congressional lines with “the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent.” Even some knowledgeable Republicans in the state said there’s a better-than-even chance that the court asks the Legislature to tweak the 10th district.

If that happens, this could be a Tossup race. But for now, Democrats are left with a common redistricting conundrum: great candidate, bad district.

16th district | Incumbent: Vern Buchanan (R)

3rd term (69 percent) | Outlook: Likely Republican

A New York Times article last month reported an apparently growing series of investigations into Buchanan’s alleged financial issues.

The Federal Election Commission has closed one investigation of Buchanan, who has denied any wrongdoing. But the other supposed investigations leave a politically toxic cloud of ethical questions hanging over the car dealership owner’s head.

He is running in a Republican-leaning district that is almost identical to his current one. But that doesn’t insulate Buchanan from the impending Democratic attacks. They will paint him as a corrupt used-car-salesman-turned-right-wing-Republican.

Democrats see real potential to knock the Congressman’s unfavorable numbers up enough to make this race extremely competitive. That hasn’t happened yet, though.

The likely Democratic nominee is former state Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, a college professor who, as a candidate, doesn’t set the world on fire. In fact, he lost his statehouse re-election bid in 2010. But Democrats believe a mild-mannered, trustworthy professor who sells himself on his website as having devoted his life to public service is a perfect contrast to Buchanan.

Buchanan had a wide financial lead at the end of last year and maintains a solid edge in the contest. It also doesn’t hurt that he still has the support of House leadership. Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) appeared at a Sarasota fundraiser with the Congressman recently. But this race is worth watching closely — power players in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., certainly are.

18th district | Incumbent: Allen West (R)

1st term (54 percent) | Outlook: Leans Republican

West jumped to this swing district when his current seat was drawn to be substantially more Democratic. Businessman Patrick Murphy (D), who was running against West in the 22nd, followed him. The new 18th has about a quarter of the current 22nd district’s population.

The race between the two probably won’t be the epic battle some would expect with outspoken West. But with both having proved to be good at hyperbole and fundraising, it will be nasty and expensive.

Democrats privately admit that Murphy, 29, isn’t the strongest candidate, but he’ll raise good money running against West, 51, a tea party superstar, and they think the partisan lean of the district gives him an edge. President Barack Obama would have won the 18th in 2008.

But with incumbency and almost $3 million in the bank at the end of 2011, West has the early edge.

19th district | Open seat: Connie Mack IV (R) is running for Senate.

Outlook: Safe Republican

This is one of the safest GOP districts in the state, so the question becomes: Which Republican will represent it?

Unaligned Republican strategists said it’s far too early to tell who has the edge in what could be a crowded and raucous primary, but Chauncey Goss, the son of former Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.), probably has the edge in name identification. Among the GOP field, two highly credible candidates are state Reps. Gary Aubuchon and Paige Kreegel.

22nd district | Open seat: Allen West (R) is running in the 18th district.

Outlook: Leans Democratic

This seat got a whole lot more Democratic in redistricting — so much so that West decided to run somewhere else.

Subsequently, former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner dropped his Senate bid and decided to run here. He is almost certain to be the GOP nominee. There are points that will work to his advantage in the general: He represented a chunk of the district in the state Legislature, so some voters will be familiar with him; he is Jewish, like many voters in the new district; and he had $667,000 in his federal account at the end of 2011.

But the voters here are Democratic and would have voted 57 percent for President Barack Obama in 2008. And Hasner spent almost a year tacking hard right in an attempt to win the Republican nomination for Senate.

He’s picked up major endorsements from Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush, but it’s unclear whether that will help him in the general election.

There’s a contentious primary on the Democratic side between Broward County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs and former West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel. Frankel, who has been in the race for months and had a few boffo fundraising quarters, has the edge in the primary and is expected by Democratic strategists to win. That leaves Democrats feeling pretty good about the race.

26th district | Incumbent: David Rivera (R)

1st term (52 percent) | Outlook: Leans Republican

This contest is likely to pit Rivera, who has been under investigation for alleged financial improprieties since he got to Congress, against state Rep. Luis Garcia or another Democrat who has yet to get into the race.

Rivera’s ethics troubles have left him struggling to raise money, which has opened the prospect of a primary challenge. But none has materialized so far. Republicans say Rivera is still popular in the Miami-area district and is likely to be the GOP nominee. Rivera is no newcomer to tough Miami-style politics, so he shouldn’t be written off.

If there is one person who could knock him out, however, Florida Republicans say it would be powerful state Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. One other potential candidate is former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla (R).

Garcia, an affable former fireman, is a good fit for the district, but Democrats loudly grumble that he needs to up his fundraising game to make a race in this Republican district truly competitive.

Garcia has also been grumbling — and publicly. He told the Miami Herald that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had, essentially, thrown him under the bus by starting to recruit other candidates. One of the candidates national Democrats were reportedly talking with: Alex Penelas, the former mayor of Miami-Dade County.

In a meeting with reporters earlier this year, DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) joked about Rivera’s troubles. “Rivera is an incumbent who is being investigated by virtually every investigative authority that’s ever been created. If the Girl Scouts had subpoena power, they would be investigating Rivera,” Israel said, embracing hyperbole.

But the reality is that given Rivera’s
long-simmering ethics and fundraising troubles and clear vulnerability, if there’s not a competitive race here come autumn, poor recruiting on the part of D.C. and Tallahassee Democrats is to blame.


Georgia

Gov. Nathan Deal (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 16
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 52%/Obama 47%

House

9th district | New seat

Outlook: Safe Republican

This new district is anchored in Hall County in the northeastern part of the state. A Republican will win this district, which is home to the governor, lieutenant governor and state Speaker and was drawn to be one of the most Republican districts in the country.

The top two contenders are conservative talk-radio host Martha Zoller, who is closely aligned with the local tea party movement, and state Rep. Doug Collins, who is closely aligned with the Atlanta establishment. Both have strong conservative credentials and top-notch political teams and start with bases of support.

Zoller’s time as a radio host gave her an early boost in name identification, but thousands of hours of time on air create a potential for some deep dives on opposition research that her opponents are likely to exploit.

The primary is scheduled for July 31 with a runoff Aug. 21.

12th district | Incumbent: John Barrow (D)

4th term (57 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

The new lines may as well have been in the shape of a large target on Barrow: The GOP-controlled Legislature put his political future in peril. Democratic-leaning Savannah — including Barrow’s current home — was moved to another district, and the 12th gained the staunchly Republican suburbs of Augusta. Under the new lines, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) would have gotten a little less than 60 percent in 2008.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has already run a TV spot connecting Barrow to President Barack Obama and knocking him for voting against the repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The four top contenders in a large GOP field are businessman Rick Allen, state Rep. Lee Anderson, attorney and retired Navy fighter pilot Wright McLeod and attorney Maria Sheffield. In an early poll, Anderson had a lead, but the field was wide open. Unaligned Republicans in the state expect it remain that way for some time.


Kentucky

Gov. Steve Beshear (D)

2012 Electoral Votes: 8
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 57%/Obama 41%

House

4th district | Open seat: Geoff Davis (R) is retiring.

Outlook: Safe Republican

In a strong Republican district, the GOP primary pits state Rep. Alecia Webb-
Edgington, Boone County Judge-Executive Gary Moore and Lewis County Judge-Executive Thomas Massie, affiliated with the tea party, against each other.

Watch for the tea-party-vs.-establishment narrative in this race: Webb-Edgington and Moore supported Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s choice for Senate in 2010, Trey Grayson. Massie backed now-Sen. Rand Paul, and Paul actively recruited Massie to the race.

It has been a quiet contest so far, with Kentucky operatives unclear on which candidate has the edge until first-quarter fundraising numbers are released. “The candidate that’s truly in the lead is: ‘I don’t know,’” one longtime Republican observer of Kentucky politics said.

6th district | Incumbent: Ben Chandler (D)

5th term (50 percent) | Outlook: Leans Democratic

The rematch between Chandler and lawyer Andy Barr (R) is likely to be the only competitive race on tap in the Bluegrass State in 2012. Chandler won re-election in 2010 by only 648 votes out of almost 240,000 cast. Although national Republicans are bullish on this race with an unpopular president at the top of the ticket, Kentucky GOP strategists believe that Barr’s best chance to defeat Chandler was the previous cycle and that a favorable redistricting outcome gave Chandler an extra cushion.


Louisiana

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 8
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 59%/Obama 40%

House

3rd district | Member vs. Member: Charles Boustany (R) and Jeff Landry (R)

4th term (unopposed); 1st term (64 percent) | Outlook: Safe Republican

Landry and Boustany were drawn into the same district under the new map. The majority of that district is territory that Boustany currently represents, but Landry retains some constituents. Although Landry hasn’t yet officially declared to run here, it’s clear that there’s a battle brewing in the bayou.

Landry’s strategy will likely be to portray himself as the tea party outsider, painting a contrast to Boustany, who is quite close with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Landry probably found his key wedge issue in the Budget Control Act to raise the debt ceiling, which he voted against and Boustany voted in favor of.

Being close to leadership, Boustany is expected to be able to raise a lot more money.

During the recess last August, Sen. David Vitter (R) added intrigue to the intraparty fight by holding forums with Landry on the debt ceiling in Boustany’s district.

Bottom line: This should be a fun race to watch.


Mississippi

Gov. Haley Barbour (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 6
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 56%/Obama 43%

Senate

Incumbent: Roger Wicker (R)

1st term (55 percent) | Outlook: Safe Republican

In some future election for one of Mississippi’s Senate seats, Republican candidates will look back with envy at Wicker’s stroll to a second term. The 60-year-old is a former House appropriator who was appointed to the Senate in 2007 and won a 10-point victory in 2008.

He faces no serious Democratic opponent. That’s probably because with more than
$2 million in the bank and views and votes that fit the state, he would be almost impossible to beat.

House

1st district | Incumbent: Alan Nunnelee (R)

1st term (55 percent) | Outlook: Safe Republican

Nunnelee faced former Eupora Mayor Henry Ross in a primary, but the freshman easily dispatched his GOP rival and should secure a comfortable victory in November.


North Carolina

Gov. Beverly Perdue (D)

2012 Electoral Votes: 15
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 50%/McCain 49%

House

7th district | Incumbent: Mike McIntyre (D)

8th term (54 percent) | Outlook: Leans Republican

McIntyre will have his biggest political fight yet in a district he currently represents but no longer lives in. The GOP-controlled state Legislature not only drew McIntyre out of his district but also sliced out his base of support in Robeson County. McIntyre is known as a hard campaigner and has the advantages of incumbency.

Right now, the GOP primary is a fight between state Sen. David Rouzer, who has establishment support but suffers a severe charisma deficit, and fiery retired Marine Ilario Pantano, who can rally a crowd but can’t get them to write him a check. Pantano lost to McIntyre by more than 7 points in 2010. Pantano raised only $73,000 in the fourth quarter and had $8,900 in cash on hand at the end of December, an amount that deeply undermined his pitch that he is a serious candidate. Rouzer had $221,000 in the bank.

If Rouzer wins, it’s going to be difficult, but possible, for McIntyre to hack out a victory. The field will be slightly more level if Pantano is the GOP nominee.

8th district | Incumbent: Larry Kissell (D)

2nd term (53 percent) | Outlook: Likely Republican

Kissell, a former social studies teacher and textile mill supervisor, is among the most vulnerable incumbents in the country as a result of the GOP-led redistricting effort. Under the new lines, Barack Obama would have garnered just 42 percent in the district in 2008.

Kissell is likely to face a thoughtful, serious candidate in GOP frontrunner Richard Hudson, a former Congressional aide who spent years as district director for former Rep. Robin Hayes (R), whom Kissell beat in 2008. Nipping at Hudson’s heels, however, is neurosurgeon John Whitley, who has said he’s willing to put in hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money to win the GOP nomination. He recently went up on TV with a pretty good ad promoting his conservative values. Still, Hudson has the edge in the primary, which also includes dentist Scott Keadle, state Rep. Fred Steen and former Winston-Salem City Councilman Vernon Robinson. Robinson, a perennial candidate, was the Republican nominee in the 13th district against Rep. Brad Miller (D) in 2006 and a candidate for an open seat in the 5th district in 2004.

But Robinson, whose fiery rhetoric has helped him pull in significant fundraising, has the potential to be a spoiler in the race and his very presence gives GOP operatives in the state agita.

“Any person with a heartbeat that isn’t Vernon Robinson could beat Larry Kissell,” one Republican familiar the state said, echoing a common sentiment.

All the dynamics at play make this primary a particularly important one to watch, given that the GOP nominee is more likely than not to be the next Congressman from the 8th district.

9th district | Open seat: Sue Myrick (R) is retiring.

Outlook: Safe Republican

It’s going to be a sprint to the primary in this Charlotte-area district that Myrick has represented for nine terms. The top contender for the GOP nomination is former state Sen. Robert Pittenger, who has the potential to self-fund and has been aggressively campaigning. 

“It’s Pittenger’s to lose,” one North Carolina Republican operative said. “He’s got enough money and enough people who know what they’re doing.”

Pittenger has the endorsement of neighboring Rep. Patrick McHenry (R). 

His top challenger is probably Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jim Pendergraph, who has Myrick’s endorsement. But Pendergraph used to be a Democrat, and strategists see that as a significant albatross around his neck. There are other serious contenders in the 11-person primary, including insurance executive Dan Barry, who was previously running in the 8th district but lives in the 9th, affable Charlotte City Councilman Andy Dulin and state Rep. Ric Killian. Given the extensive field of candidates, expect to see a runoff here. Whoever wins that contest will almost certainly be coming to Washington, D.C.

11th district | Open seat: Heath Shuler (D) is retiring.

Outlook: Likely Republican

Republicans keen on knocking Shuler out of Congress drew a map that carved out a big chunk of liberal Buncombe County and made the 11th the most Republican district in the state. But Shuler left on his own terms, and his longtime chief of staff, Hayden Rogers, is running in his stead.

An early test of the seriousness of Rogers’ candidacy will be his first-quarter fundraising, which will be released in April. Another key benchmark will be his ability to build name identification in the district, which stretches over a wide swath of the western part of the Tar Heel State. But even when voters know who he is, Rogers will have to make sure the “D” after his name doesn’t immediately disqualify him in their minds. Rogers should easily beat Asheville City Councilman Cecil Bothwell in the Democratic primary.

There are eight Republican candidates in the primary: real estate investor Mark Meadows, local District Attorney Jeff Hunt, young businessman Ethan Wingfield, retired Army officer Spence Campbell, businessman Vance Patterson, economic consultant Chris Petrella, 2010 candidate Kenny West and Susan Harris, who ran as a Democrat for Senate in 2010.

Meadows, a newcomer to elective politics who has a charismatic spark and staunchly conservative values, recently picked up some key endorsements, including one from the 2010 GOP nominee for the seat. He appears to have the momentum two months before the May primary. Unaligned Republicans in the state see him as the likely winner of the contest, though with so many candidates, a runoff is possible.

Hunt, who got in the race with high hopes and establishment support, has struggled to connect and to raise money. Wingfield, a thoughtful 26-year-old businessman and Brown University graduate who injected some of his own money into his campaign, is probably too polished and cerebral for the district, Tar Heel Republicans told Roll Call. But they see a future for him in state politics.

It’s a long way until the general election heats up, but whoever the GOP nominee is, it’s a long-shot bid for Rogers.

13th district | Open seat: Brad Miller (D) is retiring.

Rating: Safe Republican

The way the GOP Legislature configured this district in redistricting means Democrats don’t have any chance here. So the contest comes down to Wake County Commissioner Paul Coble, who previously served as mayor of Raleigh, and former U.S. attorney George Holding, who investigated ex-Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.).

Also running is Bill Randall, who lost to Miller in 2010 and who told Roll Call that he “subscribes to the principles of the tea party.” He is not expected to be a major player in the race, but former GOP White House hopeful Herman Cain is reportedly stumping for him in March.

Holding, who has lots of personal wealth and a super PAC supporting him, is seen as leading the fight for the nomination. Holding has a potent personal narrative and has knocked Coble as a longtime politician.

The campaign has turned negative recently, with Coble attacking Holding’s super PAC.

“It has been nasty,” one state GOP operative said. It probably will be to the finish line, but Holding has the edge.


South Carolina

Gov. Nikki Haley (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 9
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 54%/Obama 45%

House

7th district | New seat

Outlook: Likely Republican

South Carolina gained a seat in reapportionment because of population growth. The GOP-held Legislature situated the new 7th in the northeastern part of the state, anchored in Myrtle Beach and the Pee Dee region. Based in Republican Horry County, which went
62 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential election, the new district isn’t fertile ground for a Democrat. But if the stars align for them, the party might have a shot here.

Despite multiple candidates, the Democratic primary is a race between attorney Preston Brittain and state Rep. Ted Vick. Vick, who had a strong fundraising start, got the endorsement of the conservative Blue Dog PAC and is tipped by insiders to have the advantage.

The even more crowded Republican field includes Florence attorney Jay Jordan, Horry County Council Chairman Tom Rice, Chad Prosser, former director of South Carolina’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, and former Lt. Gov. André Bauer.

Despite all the heavy hitters — three of those candidates raised more than $200,000 in the last quarter of 2011 — Republicans following the race still have their doubts that they have a very strong candidate.

Bauer, who has strong support from senior citizens, made national headlines during his losing 2010 gubernatorial campaign when he drew a comparison between people who receive government assistance and “stray animals.”

Prosser, in an interview, called himself a “conservative reformer.” But before serving in former Gov. Mark Sanford’s cabinet, Prosser was twice elected as chairman of the Horry City Council — ammo his opponents could use to paint him as a longtime politician and Columbia insider.

Rice, who was elected as county council chairman in 2010, said his résumé would boost him (he’s a CPA). But his opponents are likely to paint him as a little too ambitious, filing his Federal Election Commission paperwork for a Congressional run after having been in the countywide office for less than a year.

And Jordan, 32, will portray himself as a conservative outsider. But he recently accepted the resignation of an aide when it was revealed she was part of the scandal that led to the mid-March indictment and resignation of Lt. Gov. Ken Ard (R).

This race is still in its early stages. The filing deadline is the end of the month.


Tennessee

Gov. Bill Haslam (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 11
2008 Presidential Vote: McCain 57%/Obama 42%

Senate

Incumbent: Bob Corker (R)

1st term (51 percent) | Outlook: Safe Republican

Corker, derisively known in some Tennessee tea party circles as “Bailout Bob” for his vote in favor of authorizing the Troubled Asset Relief Program, faced disapprobation from grass-roots conservatives for working with Democrats on a financial services reform bill in 2010. But Corker didn’t end up voting for the legislation that became the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and, over time, he has convinced a number of influential grass-roots conservatives that he holds many of the same beliefs as them.

A former mayor of Chattanooga, Corker has a comfortable bankroll and should win both the Republican primary — the filing deadline is
April 5 — and general election with ease.

House

3rd district | Incumbent: Chuck Fleischmann (R)

1st term (57 percent) | Outlook: Safe Republican

What do you get when a former Congressman’s young son, a popular dairy company’s CEO and a freshman Member all jump into a Republican primary? A race worth watching.

Fleischmann has the advantages of incumbency in the redrawn district that stretches across the middle of the state from north to south. He faces businessman Weston Wamp, the son of ex-Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), and Scott Mayfield. Wamp raised $308,000 to Fleischmann’s $321,000 in the fourth quarter, and Mayfield is a well-known name in central Tennessee.

Mayfield’s recent entrance is likely to hurt 25-year-old Wamp the most, splitting the anti-incumbent vote. And the redraw helped Fleischmann by increasing the district influence of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, whose employees tend to support the incumbent.

Still, this could be an interesting race. Fleischmann won the primary in 2010 with only 30 percent of the vote. And in an interview, Wamp was polished and appeared to have a good grasp of the issues.


Virginia

Gov. Bob McDonnell (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 13
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 53%/McCain 46%

Senate

Open seat: Jim Webb (D) is retiring.

Outlook: Tossup

Webb’s retirement ended the possibility of a grudge match with former Sen. George Allen (R) and opened up a seat in an increasingly important state for Democrats.

But party leaders, including President Barack Obama, got their top recruit in then-Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine, whose entrance made this contest perhaps the purest Tossup in the country.

The battle of the former governors promises to be competitive, expensive and likely nasty. They already faced off in a December debate that showcased how the campaigns intend to undercut their opponent.

Allen and Kaine want voters to focus on their gubernatorial tenures, but each is defining his opponent by more than what he did as head of the state. Kaine reminds voters of Allen’s record during six years in the Senate, and Allen rarely misses a chance to bring up Kaine’s ties to Obama and recent Democratic legislation.

The Kaine campaign leapt when the GOP-controlled state Legislature began pushing through controversial legislation dealing with women’s health, as a battle over access to contraception was debated in the U.S. Senate.

Allen opted to mostly stay out of the heated battles and keep the focus on his opponents’ ties to Obama. His campaign will likely keep it up as long as polls continue to show independents less supportive of the president than they were in 2008, though Obama appears to have a strong chance to win the state again this year.

Meanwhile, Allen is rebuilding a political career that went off the rails six years ago in a surprising loss to Webb. He’s been touring the state for a couple of years now, working to regain the trust and support of the GOP grass roots. A primary challenge from tea party leader Jamie Radtke and the late entrance of state Del. Bob Marshall have so far failed to put Allen in much danger of losing the nomination.

The Kaine-Allen matchup becomes official after the June primaries. Except for a couple of outliers, most polling over the course of the campaign has confirmed how observers in both parties see the race — a dead heat.

House

2nd district | Incumbent: Scott Rigell (R)

2nd term (53 percent) | Outlook: Leans Republican

Most incumbents in Virginia are safe after an incumbent protection map was approved this year by the GOP-controlled state Legislature, but Rigell will have the toughest re-election among the state’s eight Republican Members.

Paul Hirschbiel, a businessman and friend of Sen. Mark Warner, is a top recruit for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and will no doubt be aided by the presence of President Barack Obama on the ballot.

This district, which has a 21 percent
African-American voting age population, includes Rigell’s home in Virginia Beach and the Eastern Shore. It would have been split nearly evenly in the 2008 presidential race.

While both candidates have raised good money so far, both Hirschbiel and Rigell are also able to self-fund, meaning this competitive race is likely to get increasingly expensive.

It’s also a target for outside spending. The race is high on the national party committees’ radars — Hirschbiel was among the first recruits included in the DCCC’s Red to Blue program, and Rigell is among the GOP incumbents in the National Republican Congressional Committee’s incumbent retention program.

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