The 10 Most Overlooked Races of 2014

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann,

from NBCNews,

As we begin to head into the long July 4 weekend, here is our list of the 10 races you probably AREN’T following this midterm season — but should, because they’re either fascinating or might surprise everyone come the fall:

1. Hawaii Senate Democratic primary: We’ve paid so much attention to the divisive GOP Senate primaries this cycle, but this Democratic primary is as divisive as they come — appointed Sen. Brian Schatz vs. challenger Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. The central conflict of this race? The fact that Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) selected Schatz to fill the seat of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye — instead of the Inouye machine’s preferred choice, Hanabusa. Inouye’s widow has endorsed Hanabusa, while Schatz has support from President Obama, who grew up in Hawaii. The primary takes place on Aug. 9.

2. Hawaii Governor: Due in part to that controversy above, Abercrombie, the incumbent Democratic governor, looks very vulnerable this fall. A poll back in February found him trailing Republican Duke Aiona, whom the governor beat in 2010. Of course, this is Hawaii — a state Obama won in 2012, 71%-28%. But that’s why you shouldn’t overlook this race. Could Democrats possibly lose it? This VERY Democratic state has elected Republican governors before.

3. Kansas Governor: We mentioned this contest earlier this week, and here’s why you should pay attention to it: It’s MUCH CLOSER than you’d expect in ruby-red Kansas. First, one robo poll showed Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) trailing his Democratic opponent, state House Minority Leader Paul Davis. And then after chatting with Democratic and GOP operatives, the consensus is that the race is competitive — or at least more competitive than it should be. Well, what’s the matter with Kansas? The Republican Party is split is in the state. As the Times put it earlier this year: “Single-party control got things done here, but it also ignited an intraparty struggle, as the governor learned last year when some of his allies resisted the higher sales tax rate he requested to balance the state’s books. And while many Kansans remain in Mr. Brownback’s corner, moderate Republicans and Democrats are loudly expressing their anger. With Mr. Brownback facing re-election, voters will be assessing a mixed scorecard of achievement.”

4. South Dakota Senate: Yes, this race is arguably Republicans’ top Senate pickup opportunity. And yes, national Democrats have all but ignored their nominee in the contest, Rick Weiland. But the reason it bears watching is that former Sen. Larry Pressler (R-SD) is running as a third-party independent, which could make things a bit interesting in the fall. Pressler has struggled big time in the fundraising department and can’t seem to gain any traction, but considering this polarized climate, it’s surprising that more indie candidates haven’t caught fire. Remember, indie candidates can catch on late thanks to debates and cause quick havoc (see Minnesota governor). Will Pressler really be denied entry into any scheduled televised debates?

5. Minnesota Senate: The race bears watching because either 1) it becomes more competitive in the fall, which could signal a potential GOP tsunami come November; or 2) it doesn’t become competitive, which would be AMAZING considering that Sen. Al Franken won this race by about 300 votes in 2008 — and that was after a months-long recount process. Franken most likely will take on businessman Mike McFadden in November.

6. Michigan Governor: Democrats have had their sights on defeating the GOP governors who rode the Tea Party’s coattails in 2010 — Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, Maine’s Paul LePage, and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. But the GOP governor who wasn’t necessarily Tea Party four years ago, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (a.k.a. “One Tough Nerd” who won his PRIMARY in 2010 thanks in part to Dems and indies) is potentially vulnerable. He faces off against Democrat Mark Schauer in the fall.

7. Rhode Island Governor: Tiny Rhode Island is the venue for perhaps the most competitive Democratic gubernatorial primary — in the race to succeed retiring Gov. Lincoln Chafee (D). The contenders: state Treasurer Gina Raimondo, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, and Clay Pell, the grandson of the late Sen. Claiborne Pell. (Pell is also married to former Olympic ice skater Michelle Kwan.) The primary is Sept. 9.

8. Minnesota-7: Now on to the House races… Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) has served 12 terms in Congress. But Mitt Romney won the district in 2012, 54%-44%, and Republicans think they have a good candidate in state Sen. Torrey Westrom. The Cook Political Report rates the contest as Likely D, but those dynamics could make it much, much closer.

9. Colorado-6: Colorado is already home to an incredibly competitive Senate race, a competitive gubernatorial contest, and here is the House race to watch there in November: Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) vs. challenger Andrew Romanoff, the former state House Speaker who lost to Sen. Michael Bennet in the 2010 Dem primary. Obama won the district in 2012, 52%-47%.

10. Texas Lieutenant Governor: Last but certainly not least, don’t ignore November’s LG race in the Lone Star State. For one thing, the contest between Republican Dan Patrick and Democrat Leticia Van de Putte is likely going to be closer than the gubernatorial matchup between Greg Abbott (R) and Wendy Davis (D). And second, if Patrick wins, he could very well be one of the most-talked-about political names in 2015. He’s a polarizing figure, and could make Abbott’s early tenure as governor an interesting ride. Remember, constitutionally, Texas’ lieutenant governor is a pretty powerful figure.

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