2014’s Under-the-Radar Political Candidates

This mid-term year will be a big one, filled with tough competitors in hotly contested races. Here’s the list of candidates we’re watching closely at The Hotline.

John Vandermark wears his ' I Voted' sticker after voting on primary day as Michigan heads to the polls at Royal Oak Farmers Market on February 28, 2012 in Royal Oak, Michigan.
National Journal
Steven Shepard
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Steven Shepard
Jan. 1, 2014, midnight

For a midterm elec­tion year, 2014 is chock full of mar­quee races. Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell faces com­pet­it­ive con­tests in Ken­tucky’s Re­pub­lic­an primary and then also in the gen­er­al elec­tion, should he win re­nom­in­a­tion. Demo­crats are de­fend­ing sev­en Sen­ate seats in states Pres­id­ent Obama lost in 2012, in­clud­ing the seats cur­rently held by long­time in­cum­bents Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Mark Pry­or, D-Ark.

Chal­lengers like Demo­crat Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes and GOP Reps. Bill Cas­sidy and Tom Cot­ton — the chief rivals of Mc­Con­nell, Landrieu and Pry­or, re­spect­ively — are re­l­at­ively well-known. But this year also is likely to see a num­ber of big con­tests that haven’t popped just yet, with both sides field­ing im­press­ive chal­lengers in com­pet­it­ive races.

Here are the un­der-the-radar can­did­ates we’ll be watch­ing closely at The Hot­line in 2014:

— Michigan Re­pub­lic­an Terri Lynn Land: Land, the pre­sumptive GOP nom­in­ee for the seat held by re­tir­ing Sen. Carl Lev­in, D-Mich., has kept pace with Demo­crat­ic Rep. Gary Peters thus far. Both raised about $1 mil­lion in the third quarter of last year (fourth-quarter re­ports aren’t due un­til Jan. 31), and Land, the former sec­ret­ary of state and failed 2010 gubernat­ori­al can­did­ate, kicked in an­oth­er $1 mil­lion of her own money. Polls show Land and Peters run­ning neck-and-neck des­pite the state’s Demo­crat­ic lean; Re­pub­lic­an haven’t won a Sen­ate race in the Wol­ver­ine State since 1994.

— Mis­sis­sippi Re­pub­lic­an Chris McDaniel: Sen. Thad Co­chran, R-Miss., is the most likely in­cum­bent to lose re­nom­in­a­tion this year. McDaniel launched his cam­paign be­fore the six-term Co­chran, 76, even an­nounced he would seek reelec­tion. McDaniel earned the en­dorse­ments of three prom­in­ent con­ser­vat­ive groups — Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund, the Club for Growth and the Madis­on Pro­ject — on the first day of his can­did­acy. Mc­Con­nell’s race gets most of the head­lines, but Mis­sis­sippi is the epi­cen­ter of the GOP “civil war” between the es­tab­lish­ment and these out­side, in­sur­gent groups. Auto­mated polls dif­fer on the com­pet­it­ive­ness of the primary; some show the race close, while a third in Decem­ber showed Co­chran ahead. But robopolls are less ac­cur­ate in Mis­sis­sippi be­cause of the state’s high cell-phone-only pop­u­la­tion.

— Ore­gon Re­pub­lic­an Mon­ica We­hby: First-term Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., could face a stiff chal­lenge from We­hby, whose bio­graphy as a pe­di­at­ric neurosur­geon could be com­pel­ling giv­en the state’s struggles in im­ple­ment­ing its health-care ex­change. We­hby only joined the race in Oc­to­ber, so she hasn’t filed any fun­drais­ing re­ports just yet, nor have we seen any pub­lic polling data from the Beaver State.

— Ari­zona Re­pub­lic­ans Andy To­bin and Martha Mc­Sally: Re­pub­lic­ans are tout­ing To­bin and Mc­Sally, who are run­ning against Demo­crat­ic Reps. Ann Kirk­patrick and Ron Barber, re­spect­ively. Neither To­bin, the state House speak­er, nor Mc­Sally, who lost nar­rowly to Barber in 2012, have a free shot at the GOP nom­in­a­tion in their dis­trict. But both Demo­crats are run­ning for reelec­tion in dis­tricts Mitt Rom­ney won, and GOP out­side groups have already run TV ads at­tack­ing the in­cum­bents. Mc­Sally, a re­tired Air Force col­on­el, has a par­tic­u­larly com­pel­ling bio­graphy, Re­pub­lic­ans say.

— Cali­for­nia Demo­crat Aman­da Renter­ia: A suc­cess­ful con­gres­sion­al run would be a home­com­ing of sorts for Renter­ia, who was the first His­pan­ic wo­man to serve as chief of staff to a U.S. sen­at­or — Michigan Demo­crat Debbie Stabenow. Renter­ia moved back to Cali­for­nia’s Cent­ral Val­ley, where she is tak­ing on GOP Rep. Dav­id Valadao in a dis­trict Obama won by 11 points in 2012. Valadao won eas­ily that year, but Demo­crats are hope­ful that Renter­ia’s pro­file, in ad­di­tion to her know­ledge of ag­ri­cul­ture is­sues work­ing for Stabenow, will help her close the gap.

— Illinois Demo­crat Ann Cal­lis: Cal­lis is one of the Demo­crat­ic Con­gres­sion­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee’s earli­est, most-touted re­cruits. The former Madis­on County chief judge is tak­ing on Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Rod­ney Dav­is, who won by a thou­sand votes in 2012, a great­er mar­gin than Rom­ney’s 372-vote vic­tory in the dis­trict. Dav­is also has a primary chal­lenger with some name-ID: former Miss Amer­ica Erika Har­old.

— Min­nesota Re­pub­lic­an Tor­rey Westrom: For years, Re­pub­lic­ans have sought to knock off Rep. Col­lin Peterson, D-Minn., and, on its face, the west­ern Min­nesota dis­trict isn’t a big reach. But even though Rom­ney won the dis­trict by 10 points in 2012, Peterson has been nearly in­des­truct­ible. He won by a 25-point mar­gin in 2012, and by a 17-point spread in the GOP wave year of 2010. This cycle, Re­pub­lic­ans are back­ing Westrom, a state sen­at­or who was blinded by a farm­ing ac­ci­dent as a teen­ager.

— Kan­sas Demo­crat Paul Dav­is: A schism between mod­er­ates and con­ser­vat­ives has roiled the state GOP, with Gov. Sam Brown­back ush­er­ing in a right-wing takeover of the party. Con­ser­vat­ives now have a ma­jor­ity in the state le­gis­lature, rolling over mod­er­ates and Demo­crats in passing new tax cuts and abor­tion re­stric­tions. A mod­er­ate streak has long run through the Sun­flower State GOP — think Sens. Robert Dole and Nancy Kasse­baum — and now some mod­er­ates are unit­ing to op­pose Brown­back’s agenda, with ru­mors that some will even en­dorse Dav­is, the state House minor­ity lead­er. An auto­mated-tele­phone poll last fall showed Dav­is nar­rowly ahead of Brown­back, though the state’s strong Re­pub­lic­an lean makes the in­cum­bent the fa­vor­ite bar­ring ad­di­tion­al evid­ence.

— Pennsylvania Demo­crat Katie Mc­Ginty: The most vul­ner­able sit­ting gov­ernor in the U.S. is Pennsylvania Re­pub­lic­an Tom Corbett, and more than half-a-dozen Demo­crats are already in the race. The nom­in­al fron­trun­ner in the primary is Rep. Allyson Schwartz, but the race is wide open; busi­ness­man Tom Wolf has already raised $2.9 mil­lion in dona­tions, on top of a $10 mil­lion con­tri­bu­tion from his own check­ing ac­count. Mc­Ginty, a former state en­vir­on­ment­al sec­ret­ary in then-Gov. Ed Rendell’s ad­min­is­tra­tion — has es­tab­lished a pro­fes­sion­al cam­paign and should have the re­sources to com­pete along with Schwartz, Wolf, and state Treas­urer Rob Mc­Cord.

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