Must-Watch Congressional Races, 2014 Edition

New York CD-21 – Democrat (open seat)

For Republicans, this purple upstate congressional district represents a tale of opportunity lost – again and again and again.  When Republican John McHugh resigned this seat in 2009 to become sec. of the Army, the special election to succeed him should have kept it in conservative hands.  But it didn’t.

After the GOP nominated moderate Dede Scozzafava, the man she defeated in the GOP primary, Sarah Palin-backed Doug Hoffman, soldiered on as the nominee of New York’s Conservative Party.  The three-way race that ensued split the conservative vote and allowed Democrat Bill Owens, an Air Force vet and political first timer, to steal away the seat with just 48% of the vote.  Scozzafava actually dropped out and privately endorsed the Democrat days before the election.

The same convoluted scenario played itself out again in 2010 when Matt Doheny handed Hoffman another GOP primary defeat. Hoffman was once again the Conservative Party nominee. His 6% portion of the vote enabled Owens to earn reelection by just 2% over Doheny despite the tsunami-sized Republican wave that swept over the rest of the country.

Hoffman wasn’t in the picture two years ago which allowed repeat GOP nominee Doheny a clear shot at Congressman Owens. However, 2012 wasn’t nearly as friendly to Republicans as the previous election, and the Democrat prevailed for a third time.  Owens ensured himself an undefeated record against the GOP by deciding earlier this year to retire at the end of this term.

The open seat he leaves behind and the prospect of another GOP-friendly wave have Republicans salivating at the chance to finally regain this seat.  They feel Democratic nominee apparent Aaron Woolf, a documentary filmmaker from the city (New York City, that is), is a weak opponent.  But history may repeat itself… again.  There is a distinct possibility Doheny, running for a third time, will take the GOP nomination while another Republican, 29-year-old Harvard grad Elise Stefanik, will appear on the Conservative Party ballot line.

Current Election Projection:  Weak DEM Hold

West Virginia CD-3 – Democrat Nick Rahall, incumbent

Since winning a seat on Capitol Hill back in 1976, Nick Rahall has earned less than 60% of the vote only three times.  But West Virginia’s political lean has shifted as dramatically as any state in the country over the last generation.  Voters here gave Democratic President Bill Clinton landslide double-digit victories in 1992 and 1996. But by 2012, Obama’s successful reelection year, Republican Mitt Romney took West Virginia’s 5 electoral votes by a jaw-dropping 26.6 points.

That changing climate has moved Rahall's once secure seat squarely into competitive territory.  In fact, a Cook PVI of R+14 makes this district the 70th most Republican in the nation -- not friendly ground for a Democrat.  And that’s what lands the Democratic stalwart Rahall on this list.  His bid for a 20th term against a settled, formidable GOP opponent in state Sen. Evan Jenkins provides a perfect test tube for evaluating the direction and strength of the 2014 political winds.

If he can hold on, chances are Democrats will weather well Obama’s six-year itch.  If not, Republicans could be in store for another raucous celebration night come the evening of November 4th.

Current Election Projection:  Weak GOP Gain