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Key Races in 2016: Politicial Landscape Taking Shape

A few key races across the country next year will determine the balance of power in the Senate. (Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

   

Election Day is more than a year away, but the field of most competitive Senate and House races is already starting to take shape. While the political environment could change over the next 17 months, the landscape is largely set as a handful of races in each region will likely decide the majorities in the next Congress.  

The fight for the Senate is likely to be decided in the Midwest, where Democrats have takeover opportunities in Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, and a longer-shot opportunity in Indiana. If Democrats can win three out of those four states, they will be well on their way to gaining enough seats to take control of the Senate.  

Down 30 seats in the House, Democrats need to win seats everywhere to recapture the majority. The party needs to make significant gains in the Mid-Atlantic region, including New York and Pennsylvania, and in states such as Iowa and Nevada to creep closer to electoral relevancy.  

It is too early to know the context for these races and which candidates will have the wind at their backs. That is likely to depend on President Barack Obama’s job approval rating and the appeal (or lack thereof) of the GOP presidential nominee, among other reasons. But the batch of competitive Senate races is largely set and the list of House targets isn’t a secret either. Now the parties have to battle it out.

New England Democrats would love to make New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelley Ayotte a one-termer and the state tends to swing with the national wave, so Ayotte can’t feel too confident yet. But she isn’t a polarizing figure and she will be a difficult incumbent to oust. Races to watch in New England

Mid-Atlantic: The race in Pennsylvania for the Senate will be a key one and rematch of 2010, when Republican Patrick J. Toomey defeated Democrat Joe Sestak, 51 percent to 49 percent. Democratic turnout should be higher in a presidential year. Races to watch in the Mid-Atlantic

South:  From competitive primaries to the general election, the race to replace GOP Sen. Marco Rubio should have it all. Rep. Patrick Murphy is running on the Democratic side, and colorful Rep. Alan Grayson joining will make the race more entertaining. Races to watch in the South

Midwest: Ohio will likely be a presidential battleground and will host a competitive Senate race for GOP Sen. Rob Portman's seat. In Illinois, his 2010 classmate GOP Sen. Mark S. Kirk is considered the most vulnerable member of the Seanate this cycle. Races to watch in the Midwest

Plains: The race for Iowa's 1st District is the one to watch in the Plains where GOP incumbent Rod Blum is considered one of the most vulnerable House members. Democrats are headed to a competitive primary to take on Blum. Races to watch in the Plains

The Southwest: Democrat Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick's Senate bid creates a headache for Democrats to hold on to a seat in a district that voted for John McCain and Mitt Romney in the last two presidential elections. It's unclear whether incumbent Sen. McCain or Kirkpatrick will face a primary challenge. Races to watch in the Southwest

Mountain States: Colorado is another battleground for control of the Senate. Last year Sen. Michael Bennet saw his Democratic colleague Mark Udall go down, but Republicans haven't yet come up with a candidate to face him. Races to watch in the Mountain states The West: Democrats have only a pair of vulnerable Senate seats, but retiring Nevada Sen. Harry Reid ’s is one of them. GOP Rep. Joe Heck looks to flip the seat while Democrats are likely to nominate former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto. Races to watch in the West

Related:

Roll Call Race Ratings Map: Ratings for Every House and Senate Race in 2016 Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.