Freshman Rep. Robert Dold (R) stresses his independence from his party on some issues, and that makes him an incumbent to watch. His race could provide a snapshot of how voters are feeling this election cycle.
Democrat Patrick Murphy, the son of a wealthy businessman, charges that West is an extremist who exemplifies House Republicans' refusal to work with Democrats. But in a sense, Murphy is irrelevant. The question is whether voters in this competitive district want to fire the Congressman or not. If West wins, it could say something about Democrats' strategy of trying to make the GOP Congress, the tea party and outspoken conservatives the issue in 2012.
Like fellow Illinois freshman Dold, Schilling's Democratic district was made even more Democratic by redistricting. But unlike Dold's district, Schilling's is rural and blue-collar. McCain drew just less than 39 percent of the vote in it.
The Congressman (who owned and ran a pizza parlor before his election) gets high marks from insiders who say he learned the ropes on Capitol Hill and is an energetic, enthusiastic campaigner.
Democrat Cheri Bustos is a former alderwoman who served as a public relations executive for a nonprofit health system. In theory, she should be able to tap the district's partisan bent, especially given Democratic messaging about Republican support for "tax cuts for millionaires." But given the importance of blue-collar voters in the district, Schilling has a real chance to hold on in what would have to be regarded as an upset. Democrats have been counting on winning the seat for months.
Can a district in which Obama won almost two of every three voters in 2008 possibly elect a Republican to Congress this year? Not if voters in November's elections evaluate every race primarily on the basis of the party of the candidates. But GOP challenger Brendan Doherty certainly has a chance to pull off an upset.
Doherty, who served as colonel of the Rhode Island State Police and superintendent of the Department of Public Safety, doesn't shy from his working-class background. Cicilline, a former Providence mayor and freshman who turned back a primary challenge with surprising ease, has had to answer charges that he misled voters two years ago about Providence's financial shape.
Doherty is a one-time boxer who eventually earned degrees from Roger Williams University. Cicilline holds a B.A. from Brown University and a law degree from Georgetown University. You get the picture.
Critz, who survived a tough Democratic primary against fellow Rep. Jason Altmire, must hold on to Johnstown-area working-class voters who were so loyal to his predecessor and boss, the late Rep. John Murtha (D). Critz won a special election by stressing his differences with national Democrats, and he has started his re-election campaign doing the same thing. But now he has a voting record.
McCain and Bush each drew about 54 percent in the redrawn district, so Keith Rothfus (R), who lost a squeaker to Altmire two years ago, must be regarded as a real threat to Critz.
Widely liked and still standing after the GOP wave of 2010, Matheson faces one of the stiffest challenges of his career in a redrawn district that is overwhelmingly Republican.
Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love (R), the daughter of Haitian immigrants, is poised, articulate and personable. She started well behind Matheson but apparently has closed the gap quickly after being greeted as a rock star at the Republican National Convention.