A year ago, Republican Rep. Jeff Flake was considered to have all but a total lock on this seat. But it has been a long year.
First, Flake was sucked into a quagmire of a primary with a self-funded rival from the right. The race went negative and drained his funds and attention until nearly September.
Democrats recruited former Surgeon General Richard Carmona. He has an Indiana Jones-esque background of intellectual and heroic achievements. So much so that even Arizona Republicans will concede his was an attractive get. As of press time, Flake’s lead in this race was close and narrowing.
What will determine this contest is how well Carmona handles the barrage of negative advertising that Flake and outside groups are throwing his way. Flake has been on the receiving end of negative ads as well, but voters have already been subjected to unflattering spots about him through the summer and his nasty GOP primary.
There is also increasing speculation that President Barack Obama could expand his campaign’s operation to the Grand Canyon State. It is unclear how this would affect the Senate race.
But the fundamentals of the state still favor Flake, even if those advantages could diminish.
1st district | Open Seat: Paul Gosar (R) is running in the 4th district.
Outlook: Leans Democratic
Former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D) has had the momentum since the state’s nonpartisan redistricting commission made this district more Democrat-friendly. She has had strong fundraising and is backed by EMILY’s List, and hungry Democrats from across the state are rooting hard for her. It was enough to push Gosar into the safe Republican 4th district, even though he defeated Kirkpatrick by 6 points in 2010. Even conservative operatives will concede that Kirkpatrick’s early start and early fundraising efforts have given her a slight advantage over her GOP rival, former state Sen. Jonathan Paton.
Paton has run a competent campaign, and more importantly, the National Republican Congressional Committee and outside groups are placing big bets on this race. Early on, the committee blocked off nearly $1 million for television ads. Democrats were quick to point out that the money could be easily shifted in the Phoenix market to the 9th district, but the NRCC followed through on the buy and has shown no signs of backing down.
1st term (52 percent) | Outlook: Likely Democratic
The district of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has the DNA of a tossup, but not any time soon.
Barber won a dogfight against an old Giffords foe, Republican Jesse Kelly, in the June special election to replace Giffords in the old 8th district. But Barber, a former Giffords staffer, outperformed expectations.
What Republicans have going for them is their candidate. Retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally has charm, smarts and a fascinating military record. Generally, McSally has run with a positive tone — something that would work well for a district that has suffered the trauma that has faced Tucson residents since the Safeway shootings.
But given Barber’s larger-than-expected 7-point margin in the June special and the fact that the new 2nd district is more favorable territory for the Democrats, it is hard to see how Republicans have a better shot in the fall.
9th district: New Seat
Arizona politicos are fascinated by this race.
Former state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D) has EMILY’s List behind her and a smart team. But it cannot be a good sign that hours after she won her nomination, national Republicans were over the moon. Since then, they have unleashed their opposition research from her decade-old public record.
The GOP nominee is former Paradise Valley Mayor Vernon Parker. The Republican field was always weaker than the Democratic side, and Parker was not an exceptional fundraiser. In a recent interview with Roll Call, he said fundraising had picked up significantly. Parker is one of the growing field of African-American Republican House contenders and paints himself as a moderate. Still, Democrats have sought to portray him as a tea party radical.
Republicans have also tried to depict Sinema as a liberal extremist. It is not hard to see why, given the split demographic of this district, Parker and Sinema have gone to great effort to appeal to the middle.
The national parties display a fierce determination to put this Open Seat in their column, and it is hard to imagine either one pulling the plug before Election Day.
An open-seat race initially viewed as yet another pickup opportunity for Republicans gradually slipped from the party’s grasp and moved in Democratic Rep. Martin Heinrich’s direction.
Republicans recruited former Rep. Heather Wilson, known for her moderate voting record, to run in this heavily Hispanic state. But after losing a brutal primary for an open Senate seat in 2008, Wilson entered the race with stubbornly high unfavorable ratings. This cycle, after easy primary victories for both, Heinrich began to take a significant lead in late summer.
After that, both national parties began canceling their television reservations and shifting the resources to more competitive states. New Mexico also did not emerge as a presidential battleground, with President Barack Obama expected to win easily again.
Still, Wilson could conceivably close the gap, especially if Democrats stop running ads against her. The Wilson and Heinrich campaigns released dueling polls in late September, with Wilson’s showing her pulling within 1 point of Heinrich and the Democrat’s poll showing him with an 8-point lead. Both showed a third-party candidate taking 9 percent of the vote.
A district formerly known as a bellwether lost its drama after the primaries. Bernalillo County Commissioner Michelle Lujan Grisham overcame her early underdog status to win a bloody Democratic primary against former Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chavez and state Sen. Eric Griego. She’ll face former state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones (R), who has failed to make this Democratic-trending district competitive.
2nd district | Open Seat: Dan Boren (D) is retiring.
Outlook: Likely Republican
As each month passes, Democrats are less likely to hold this seat. It’s close to a sure bet that plumbing company owner Markwayne Mullin (R) will come to Congress.
Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Rob Wallace (D) is a strong nominee. It’s not him; it’s the district.
Traditionally, this southeastern “Little Dixie” seat has elected Democrats on the local level. Voters gave Boren at least 56 percent of the vote during his four terms in Congress.
But on the national level, local voters have demonstrated their preference for Republican candidates. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won the current district — which did not change much after redistricting — with 66 percent.
Neither committee has reserved ad time in this district — a sign it’s not on either party’s radar.
Former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz rocked the Texas political establishment when he beat popular Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst for the Republican nomination. His victory was a huge win for the tea party, the Club for Growth and various outside groups that formed the coalition that was able to parachute into Texas and help Cruz defeat a well-funded Republican who invested a significant portion of his personal fortune and also had access to local money from the state’s strong GOP establishment.
But that’s about all the upset left in this race.
Former state Rep. Paul Sadler (D) is a respected political player, but his path to victory will almost certainly remain elusive.
14th district | Open Seat: Ron Paul (R) is retiring.
Outlook: Likely Republican
Redistricting has made this once-solid Republican district somewhat more competitive. Part of that was strategic. The GOP sought to neutralize Democratic Beaumont by incorporating it into the very Republican territory of the current 14th. Democrats say this logic might have overextended a Republican stronghold and that with the right Democratic candidate, the seat could flip.
Democratic strategists say they achieved that in former Rep. Nick Lampson (D).
Privately, Republicans do not sound thrilled about the campaign that state Rep. Randy Weber (R) has run, but they still express confidence that the seat will hold in a presidential year.
Lampson has a strong team, good fundraising, television advertising and promising internal polling. Plus, his home base of Beaumont is in this district. But it still seems like a hard climb. Seven months ago, one Republican might have put it most aptly: “Lampson would have to run the race of his life.”
State Rep. Joaquin Castro (D) is the heir apparent to take Gonzalez’s place in Congress. Castro has an Ivy League education, poise and a golden name in San Antonio politics. The 37-year-old has an unusual home-court advantage: His twin brother, Julián, is mayor of San Antonio.
23rd district | Incumbent: Francisco “Quico” Canseco (R)
1st term (49 percent) | Outlook: Tossup
This is the single competitive race in the Lone Star State.
Because of Voting Rights Act mandates, this was a predominantly Hispanic district before the redraw, and the new boundaries have kept it that way.
What did change was that high-turnout Hispanic populations in south San Antonio were swapped for more rural, low-turnout Hispanic populations near the Mexico border. The intent was to help the freshman hold the seat for the GOP.
But national Democrats want this seat badly, and there is much pressure on their candidate, state Rep. Pete Gallego, to win. State Democrats have expressed frustration with Gallego’s campaign. Many were highly critical when underfunded former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D) forced him into a runoff. Some say Gallego righted his campaign with a new team, but the grumbling continues.
The district sprawls from El Paso to San Antonio, an eight-hour drive in each direction. Ad space is important in the San Antonio market, but so is knowing how to execute a campaign over such a large expanse. Both national committees have played here in the past several cycles and know what they are doing.
25th district | New Seat
Outlook: Safe Republican
Former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams won his primary in a runoff, and he is almost certainly coming to Congress in January.
33rd district | New Seat
Outlook: Safe Democratic
State Rep. Marc Veasey faced his toughest competition in his Dallas-vs.-Fort Worth Democratic primary. He is widely expected to win his fall race against nominal GOP opposition.
34th district | New Seat
Outlook: Safe Democratic
Attorney Filemon Vela coasted through his summer Democratic runoff and is expected to have an even easier ride in the fall. This seat most closely resembles the old Solomon Ortiz district, so anticipate seeing Vela as a Member next year.
36th district | New Seat
Outlook: Safe Republican
Former Rep. Steve Stockman brutally attacked his opponent in the GOP primary runoff, and it worked. This seat was drawn to be safe Republican, and he is a pretty sure bet to be one of this year’s comeback kids in Congress.
Sen Mary Landrieu, D-La., poses for a selfie with LSU football fans as she campaigns at tailgate parties on the Louisiana State University campus before the LSU-Mississippi State game on Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014. Buy photo here.