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The 10 Most Overlooked Races of 2014

These contests don't make national headlines every day, but they're fascinating ...and they might surprise everyone in the fall.
A few hundred teachers and education advocates protest at the Kansas Statehouse against Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, Saturday, May 17, 2014, in Topeka, Kan. They don't believe the state's schools are adequately funded and object to new laws that will end guaranteed tenure for public school teachers and give tax credits to corporations that bankroll private-school scholarships. (AP Photo/John Hanna)John Hanna / AP

The 10 most overlooked races of 2014

As we begin to head into the long July 4 weekend, we figured we’d contribute to the growing dependence on making you digest information via lists. So with that apologetic caveat out of the way, 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.

Immigration protest in California

Meanwhile, as we get closer to July 4, politics has died down a bit in the nation’s capital. But that is hardly the case in California, where protestors yesterday “blocked three busloads of immigrant families being transferred to a federal facility in Riverside County,” USA Today reports. “More than 100 people waving American flags and holding signs that opposed ‘new illegals’ waited in the hot sun for the three charter buses to arrive at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection station in Murrieta, about an hour north of San Diego.” The story conflates the debate over comprehensive immigration reform (which is dead legislatively) and the immigrant families and children from Central America who have been crossing the border. It’s also a reminder of the power of NIMBY-ism -- “Not In My Back Yard.” Indeed, we remember how Cuban refugees being transported from Florida to Arkansas in 1980 hurt Bill Clinton in his unsuccessful bid for re-election as Arkansas governor that year. As the feds scramble to figure out how not to have Texas and Arizona bear this burden on their own, a trip down the Cuban crisis of 1980 is a reminder of just how difficult this will be.

A growing trust in strangers vs. a decrease of faith in institutions

Yesterday, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote about how Americans have – surprisingly -- grown to trust other Americans with the growth of Airbnb (where people rent out their homes and apartments to strangers). “Airbnb is only a piece of the peer-to-peer economy. People are renting out their cars to people they don’t know, dropping off their pets with people they don’t know, renting power tools to people they don’t know.” But the one thing Brooks didn’t mention in his piece is how it’s coming at a time when Americans are losing faith in large institutions. Per our April 2014 NBC/WSJ poll, just 32% said they had a lot of faith in the Supreme Court; 29% had a lot of faith in public schools; 24% had a lot of faith in religious leaders and organizations; 19% had a lot of faith with the news media; and 16% had a lot of faith with the federal government. It’s a remarkable see-saw -- this is not a case of Americans simply losing trust; it’s losing trust in all things BIG, but gaining trusts in all things small, new and nimble. Perhaps these BIG institutions, including the government and both political parties, ought to be studying this new post-Great Recession phenomenon of the peer-to-peer economy that’s actually building new levels of trust.

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