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Five 'Must-Watch' Congressional Races for 2012

New Hampshire CD-1 and CD-2

Frank Guinta-inc (R) vs. Carol Shea-Porter (D)

Charlie Bass-inc (R) vs. Ann McLane Kuster (D)

These two seats have so much in common and are so competitive that a package deal is in order. Besides, they have mirrored each other in recent elections. In fact, these two seats have gone to the same party in every election since 1992. Both were Democratic pick-ups in 2006, and Republicans reclaimed them both two years ago.

But the similarities don’t end there. All four of the likely nominees (likely because the Democratic primary won’t be held until September 11) were on the ballot in 2010. It’s a pair of rematches, and early polls indicate two razor-close battles are in store.

As red spots in the blue expanse of the Northeast, these two contests hold special significance for the GOP. Along with a competitive Senate race in nearby Connecticut, they represent two of very few opportunities for Republican victories in the region.


Pennsylvania CD-12 (merged seat)

Mark Critz-inc (D) vs. Keith Rothfus (R)

An interesting phenomena of reapportionment after every 10-year census is the incumbent-vs-incumbent race.  When a state loses seats to reapportionment, it is quite common for two incumbents to end up in the same district.  That’s just what happened in Pennsylvania this year. Republicans used their control over the redistricting process to paint Democratic Congressmen Jason Altmire and Mark Critz into a newly configured CD-12.  Critz won the primary and will face Keith Rothfus, a Tea-Party backed Republican who lost to Altmire in 2010 by just 2 percent.

This year, Rothfus may turn the tables on Critz, given the new district’s R+6 PVI, but Critz has proven a formidable challenge in the past. He won a special election to replace the late John Murtha in May 2010 and then held on to win re-election, 51-49, in November of that year, despite seeing so many of his Democratic colleagues go down to defeat.

It’ll be an exciting race in a battleground state, and the winner could be determined by the color and length of the coattails at the top of the ticket.


Minnesota CD-8

Chris Cravaack-inc (R) vs. Richard Nolan (D)

Democrat Jim Oberstar rarely campaigned for re-election.  His seat was one of those formalities I mentioned earlier. In 2010, Chris Cravaack was supposed to be just the next GOP pretender to lose big to the 19-term incumbent. But then the red wave kept rising and rising. Once Oberstar realized his race was competitive, it was too late. Cravaack’s stunning victory was one of the most surprising in recent memory.

Now, it is Cravaack who must work hard for re-election in this Democrat-leaning district (D+3 PVI).  Demographic shifts may have moved his constituency rightward, but this remains difficult territory. His opponent, DFL-endorsed Richard Nolan, has been through the House election wars before -- most recently in 1978.  No, that’s not a typo, Nolan served three terms in Congress during the 1970s and hasn’t run for office since!

This race will be another nail-biter, but if Cravaack avoids the sophomore slump, he may be set up for easier tests in future cycles.


Overall these races won’t decide who controls the House. If the Democrats manage an unlikely takeover, all of the races on this list -- and many other less competitive ones -- will have to fall in their favor. If that happens, these races may not turn out to be very competitive after all.  But, barring the unforeseen, we will still have a Republican majority come January, albeit a few seats smaller, and these select contests will have provided us the suspense and intrigue that keep us coming back to the elections arena cycle after cycle.