Top Races to Watch in 2016: The South

Rubio's decision not to run for re-election while he runs for president creates a hot race for a pivotal Senate seat.


Editor's note: This is the first in a series of looks at the most competitive House and Senate races in the 2016 election cycle. The South region includes: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Florida Senate:  From competitive primaries to the general election, the race to replace GOP Sen. Marco Rubio should have it all. Rubio left his party a competitive open seat to defend in the wake of his White House bid. The Republican field is still taking shape, but a competitive primary looks likely. Reps. Ron DeSantis and Jeff Miller, and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera are running. Rep. Patrick Murphy is running on the Democratic side, but could be joined by colorful Rep. Alan Grayson in what would be an entertaining primary. Even though there is uncertainty about the nominees, the general election is likely to be one of the most competitive in the country, and a virtual must-win for Democrats to get back to the majority. The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report /Roll Call rates the race as a Pure Tossup .  

Florida’s 18th District:  While Senate Democrats are excited about Murphy’s bid for Rubio’s seat, the congressman leaves behind a difficult open seat for House Democrats to defend. Murphy’s prolific fundraising last cycle made the seat look safer than it really was because Republicans had a hard time recruiting a top-tier challenger. President Barack Obama won the district in 2008 with 52 percent, but Mitt Romney won it with 52 percent four years later. Both parties are headed for crowded August primaries heading into a very competitive general election. Democrats need to hold their own seats, such as this one, in order to have any chance of a majority. The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report /Roll Call rates the race a Pure Tossup .  

Florida’s 26th District:  Republican Carlos Curbelo knocked off embattled Rep. Joe Garcia in 2014 and Democrats are targeting the seat next year. Obama and John McCain fought to a virtual draw in the South Florida district in 2008, but the president extended his margin of victory to 7 points in 2012. Democrats look poised to nominate former Miami-Dade County Democratic Chairwoman (and 2012 congressional candidate) Annette Taddeo, but Curbelo won’t be easy to unseat. The freshman congressman raised an impressive $700,000 for his re-election campaign in his first three months in office. The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report /Roll Call rates the race a Tossup/Tilts Republican  contest.  

North Carolina Senate:  GOP Sen. Richard Burr isn’t a top-tier takeover opportunity for Democrats, but his seat is at or near the tipping point of whether Democrats regain a majority in the Senate. Former Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, who lost re-election in 2014, announced she won’t be running in 2016 . Her decision was portrayed as a blow to Democratic chances, but Hagan would have started this race with high residual negatives from the last campaign. Democrats are still searching for a nominee, but Burr isn’t safe yet. The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report /Roll Call rates the race as Leans Republican .  

Georgia Senate:  Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson announced recently he has Parkinson’s disease but still plans on running for re-election . The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report /Roll Call rates the race as Republican Favored and Isakson is not in imminent danger of losing. But it's worth watching to see how the senator’s revelation and condition impact the quality of candidates Democrats get to run against him. If Republicans are fending off a serious contest in Georgia, the Senate is lost and they are likely in damage control mode.  

What races would you add to the list?

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