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
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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