Republican election professionals are watching a smattering of House of Representative contests across the country on Election Day to measure the much-predicted GOP success in the 2014 midterms.
To be sure, the top-billed Senate races have galvanized attention these last months, but if there is national trend against President Barack Obama’s policies and performance since the 2012 re-election, it will show first in the House contests.
The GOP House majority was never in question this cycle, with the Democrats weighed down by Obama’s weak approval rating and recent criticism of his handling of Middle East policy and Ebola. However, for the Republicans to justify their earnest recruiting and lavish spending, the party leaders believe there must be a pickup of at least 10, if not 12, seats in the House.
Early in the evening, the results from three races in three New England states are worth watching closely, because if they break early in the returns after the 8 p.m. Eastern poll closings, they would signal a rich night for the GOP that would add 10 or more seats to its majority for the 114th Congress.
In Maine the open 2nd District seat, vacated by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Michaud, has a tight race between Democratic state Sen. Emily Cain and Republican former State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, with independent candidate Blaine Richardson a distant third. In their last debate, Cain accused Poliquin of tax improprieties; Poliquin accused Cain of “extreme” tax-and-spend policies. The race is too close to call in a reliably blue state, and a trend for Poliquin will show surprising strength for the GOP strategy of campaigning against Obama’s policies on health care, energy, taxes, gun control and immigration.
In New Hampshire, incumbent Rep. Carol Shea-Porter is facing a challenge from former Rep. Frank Guinta for the 1st District seat. The two candidates have traded places in Congress the last four years, with Guinta defeating Shea-Porter in 2010 and Shea-Porter defeating Guinta in 2012. A national trend for Republicans may well show here, especially because Shea-Porter has been bold in her support of the unpopular Affordable Care Act, which she voted for in 2011.
In northeastern Massachusetts, the 6th District seat is open, because Democratic Iraq War veteran Seth Moulton defeated Democratic incumbent John Tierney in the primary. Now longtime Republican state Sen. Richard Tisei is running strongly against Moulton by opposing Democratic policies such as Common Core education reform. Like Maine and New Hampshire, Massachusetts is a reliably blue state that supported Obama overwhelmingly in 2012, but the most recent polling shows Tisei moving ahead of Moulton. Tisei will likely be helped by the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Charlie Baker, who is pulling away from the Democratic candidate, Attorney General Martha Coakley.
Appalachia and the Midwest
In addition, two struggles by veteran House Democratic incumbents may show a national trend toward Republican victory: one in West Virginia, where the polls close at 7:30 p.m. Eastern, and one in Minnesota, where polls close at 8 p.m. Central.
House victories, starting in New England, would point strongly to the GOP having a very good cycle in the more glamorous Senate races as well.
In the swing state of West Virginia, incumbent Democratic Nick Rahall has spent $4 million to fend off a strong challenge by Republican veteran state Sen. Evan Jenkins for the 3rd District seat. The overwhelming issue is the Obama administration’s energy policies, with GOP ads emphasizing the “Obama-Rahall war on coal,” in a coal-rich state that voted overwhelmingly against Obama in 2012. Helping the Republicans statewide, Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito is running away with the open Senate seat of retiring Jay Rockefeller. Republican pros are watching to confirm that the strategy of campaigning against the Obama policies of health care, national security and energy can provide firepower against even entrenched incumbents such as Rahall, who was elected in 1976 and is the sixth-longest-serving Democrat in the House.
In Minnesota, a solid blue state since Jimmy Carter’s presidency, incumbent Collin Peterson, a Democrat, is running hard against well-financed state Sen. Torrey Westrom to hold on to the 6th District seat. After 24 years in the House, Peterson has the unusual distinction of being one of the last four House Democrats remaining who voted against the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Nevertheless, Westrom has worked to tie Peterson to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the Obama administration’s fiscal policies and the Affordable Care Act. Energy policy is also a major focus, with challenger Westrom, who uses a cane for an accident that blinded him at 14, tying folksy Peterson to the Obama administration’s refusal to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project.
Later on election night, one race in California may be a bellwether for a national trend against the Democrats, in deeply blue Ventura County in Southern California. For the 26th District seat, freshman incumbent Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley faces a strong challenge by longtime Republican State Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, a Navy Reserve veteran who has been on active combat duty several times since 2001, returning from Afghanistan as recently as 2012. Both candidates have similar views on health care and veterans’ affairs. Brownley speaks comfortably of her progressive ideas, such as an unsuccessful effort when she was in the California State Assembly to ban plastic shopping bags. Gorell is said to have an edge because Brownley moved into the district only in 2012. If there is to be a bonus from a national Republican trend, it would show itself in a district where Republican boilerplate on the Affordable Care Act, taxes and energy policies such as the Keystone XL pipeline are not popular topics, and Gorell has run chiefly on his personal achievements.
There are other close House races to watch, such as several tight races in New York, but these six congressional districts, in three time zones, are sufficient to indicate the scale of a Republican success for 2014. House victories, starting in New England, would point strongly to the GOP having a very good cycle in the more glamorous Senate races as well.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article misidentified the name of Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker. We regret the error.