The 10 Hottest Races to Watch in the Midterm Elections

The midterm elections are right around the corner, and there's been much talk about how they're some of the most important non-presidential races in the U.S. in years

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

The midterm elections are right around the corner, and there’s been much talk about how they’re some of the most important non-presidential races in the U.S. in years. Voter turnout for the midterms is expected to be higher than ever, especially among young people, and Democrats are holding out hope that they will be able to take back Congress in order to impede President Donald Trump‘s agenda.

According to David Wasserman, U.S. House Editor for the Cook Political Report, chances are strong that the House will swing left come Tuesday, while the Senate will remain red. Wasserman also adds that the two chambers of Congress are like “Mars and Venus” because “the House will be decided by suburbs where Republicans are on defense,” while the Senate is all about “rural states where Democrats are on defense,” such as Missouri, West Virginia and Montana.

With so much of the political dynamic in the country riding on the midterms, here are some of the most high-profile battles in the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as for governor.

Rep. Steve King vs. J.D. Scholten for Iowa’s 4th Congressional District

This house race is between a staunch Republican incumbent, King — who is known for his ties to white supremacism and for retweeting Nazi rhetoric, according to — and Scholten, a former baseball player and paralegal who is campaigning on a platform of helping working families and farmers.

Scholten has outfundraised King and in this heavily Republican district, one recent poll shows the former baseball player trailing the eight-term incumbent by just a point. Scholten told Politico that he received a last-second surge in donations, raising over $641,000 on Tuesday and Wednesday alone.

Experts say the recent shooting in Pittsburgh, the deadliest attack on Jews in the history of the U.S., could hurt King’s chances due to his associations with white nationalism and Nazism.

Stacey Abrams vs. Brian Kemp for Georgia Governor

Abrams, a Democrat, could be on track to become the first woman and person of color to be governor of Georgia — as well as the first black woman to govern any state. According to CNN, the race is neck and neck. Kemp is Georgia’s current secretary of state, and he recently faced a scandal due to reports that his office put 53,000 voter applications, most of which were from black people, on hold because they didn’t meet the state’s controversial standards. These applicants have since been allowed to vote.

Abrams has received high-profile support from celebrities including Oprah Winfrey and Will Ferrell, both of whom went door-to-door stumping for the candidate the week before the election.

Appearing at an event for Abrams on Thursday, Winfrey praised her for “standing strong for the values that matter to me and the values that matter to Georgians all over this state.”

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence campaigned for Abrams’ Republican opponent at three events and at one point criticized Abrams for her celebrity support, according to multiple media outlets.

“I heard Oprah’s in the state today, and I heard Will Ferrell was going door-to door the other day,” he said. “Well, I’d like to remind Stacey and Oprah and Will Ferrell, I’m kind of a big deal, too.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill vs. Josh Hawley for Missouri Senator

In one of the significant senate races Wasserman highlighted, Democrat Claire McCaskill is up for re-electon, with Hawley, the current attorney general of the state, running against her on a conservative platform, specifically on issues related to the Constitution and religious liberty.

Real Clear Politics has reported that it’s one of the closest races in the country, with neither candidate polling more than four points ahead for the entire year. That’s well within the margin of error.

Experts say a loss for McCaskill would be a major blow to Democrats.

“Winning the majority will be very difficult if they don’t keep the seats they have,” Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Missouri, tells

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Sen. Heidi Heitkamp vs. Rep. Kevin Cramer for North Dakota Senator

Heitkamp’s run for re-election is colored by the recent Supreme Court vote for Trump’s controversial nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The Democratic senator voted against confirming Kavanaugh‘s seat, knowing that it could affect her chances to win in November. Polls seem to support this assessment, with a recent Fox News survey showing her nine points behind her opponent, Rep. Kevin Cramer.

If Heitkamp loses, the path for Democrats retaking the chamber becomes that much more difficult.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke vs. Sen. Ted Cruz for Texas Senator

The two men competing over this seat in many ways represent opposing American ideals. O’Rourke’s campaign has championed far-left values built off his “cool guy” image (he rides a skateboard and used to play guitar in the punk rock band Foss), whereas Cruz, to many, stands for traditional Texan politics.

The Republican, who ran for president in 2016, has held his Senate seat since 2013. Initially a critic of Trump, Cruz now supports much of the president’s agenda, including ending birthright citizenship, despite showing past support for the issue. O’Rourke has been polling behind Cruz an average of 6.5 points, according to Real Clear Politics.

If O’Rourke loses, some speculate that he will run for president against Trump in 2020.

This race is one of four opportunities for Democrats to flip Republican-held seats. The other races are between Republican Sen. Dean Heller vs. Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen for Nevada senator, Rep. Marsha Blackburn vs. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen for Tennessee senator, and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema vs. Rep. Martha McSally for Arizona senator.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn vs. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen for Tennessee Senator

This race captured national attention recently when pop star Taylor Swift voiced her support of Bredesen, the Democrat in the race.

“I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country,” Swift wrote on Instagram in early October. She also called Blackburn’s platform “not MY Tennessee values.”

One recent poll showed Blackburn with a 4-point lead over Bredesen, also within the margin of error.

According to a CBS Poll whose results were published earlier this month, Blackburn has a 50 percent approval rating among registered voters in her state, compared to 42 percent for the former two-term governor. This is the largest lead a public poll has showed her having since the primary in early August. In past polls, they’ve been neck and neck.

Factoring in four other recent polls — two of which show Blackburn in the lead and two others that give Bredesen a slight edge — Real Clear Politics still characterizes the race as a toss up, with Blackburn up by 2.7 points.

Sen. Bill Nelson vs. Gov. Rick Scott for Florida Senator

Scott, a Republican, has governed the Sunshine State since 2011 with Trump’s endorsement. Nelson is a Democratic senior senator who’s been in Congress since 2000. The race is close, according to Real Clear Politics, with a less than 3-point difference.

Sen. Bob Menendez vs. Bob Hugin for New Jersey Senator

The Garden State for the most part is solidly liberal, but this race is a little more complicated because of Democratic incumbent Menendez’s recent legal troubles, according to Real Clear Politics. In January, he survived a criminal trial for accepting bribes after the jury failed to return a verdict. New to politics, Hugin has a background in pharmaceuticals. Menendez is up at 50 percent, compared to Hugin’s 43.

Kris Kobach vs. Laura Kelly for Kansas Governor

Kobach, Kansas’ current Republican secretary of state, is known as a champion of voter ID laws, which limit access to the ballot based on your identification. He also is the former vice chair of President Donald Trump’s now-disbanded election integrity commission.

According to Mother Jones, Kobach is locked in a tight against Democrat Laura Kelly, the assistant minority leader in the state senate.

Kobach made a contentious appearance on CNN Wednesday, where CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin accused the candidate of devoting “his entire career trying to stop black people and poor people from voting.”

Kobach defended himself at a campaign event the following day, saying it was “outrageous” that Toobin had basically called him a racist. “He said that on national TV,” said Kobach. “And I said, ‘Well, are you saying that because I’m for photo I.D., I’m a racist?’ And he said yes!”

Gavin Newsom vs. John Cox for California Governor

Newsom served as the mayor of San Francisco for six years before becoming the state’s lieutenant governor, according to California paper Desert Sun. The former mayor, who was then married to Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle, notably allowed the city to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples before it was technically legal.

Cox has placed making California (which has one of the highest poverty rates in the country) more affordable at the center of his platform. Newsom is polling about 16.5 points ahead, according to Real Clear Politics.

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