The 2014 midterm elections will mark the last electoral judgments that will shape the Obama era -- a chance, perhaps, to untangle the complicated strands of a divided country.
They will provide a valuable snapshot of a changing nation. They won't settle the age-old arguments of American politics -- though they just might shake new life into a paralyzed system.
With a colorful and ambitious cast of candidates, they offer a wild ride of colliding ambitions, with doses of political legacies, a distinct taste of tea partiers, and control of the national agenda on the line.
- ABC News' "14 for 14" project is tracking some of the most interesting races of the midterm election cycle:
- Senate – Kentucky
- Senate – Arkansas
- Senate – Georgia
- Governor – Florida
- Governor – Texas
- Governor – Wisconsin
- House – Arizona-2
- House – Colorado-6
- House – Florida-13
- House – California-7
- House – Pennsylvania-13
- House – New Hampshire-1
- Land Commissioner – Texas
ABC News' "14 for 14" project is documenting the races that matter between now and November. It is a dynamic list of the campaigns -- 14 at any given time -- that individually and collectively provide the big picture of where the country stands, and where we are headed.
The stakes are as clear as they are stark: In 2014, Republicans will make a serious bid to take over the Senate, while Democrats hold out bleak hopes of flipping a stubborn House. President Obama may wind up with far more change than he bargained for, unless he can recapture some elusive campaign magic.
All 435 House seats will be filled this year. So will 36 Senate slots, with an equal number of governors slated to be elected.
But the 500-plus big races are fascinating in their smallest details, for the personalities and issues that animate individual elections more than the ultimate scoreboard results.
There will be new faces, old faces, and familiar names. The grandsons of two former presidents -- a Bush in Texas, and a Carter in Georgia -- are making bids to continue family legacies into a new generation.
A Clinton-in-law will be trying to recapture a seat she famously lost two decades ago. Bill and Hillary Clinton will try to save an old family friend back in Arkansas -- and keep the Senate in Democratic hands in the process.
There will be fresh candidates and ancient grudges. In Texas, a mom whose pink tennis shoes carried her to national prominence will take on a conservative stalwart who's been paralyzed from the waist down since he was in his 20s.
In Florida, a former governor wants his old job back, having taken a unique path through a political wilderness to potential political redemption.
“”Republicans want to take the Senate, Democrats hope to flip the House.
The powerful Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, faces generational and ideological challenges from two directions in Kentucky. He's got a tea partier on his right, and a 35-year-old female statewide office-holder on his left.
In Arkansas, Clinton friend Sen. Mark Pryor is perhaps the most endangered incumbent in the country, in part because of who's running against him. Rep. Tom Cotton brings a resume out of dream casting for conservatives, and with him rides Republican hopes of winning the six seats that will determine Senate control.
Presidential ambitions are in play as well -- and not just Hillary Clinton's. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker hopes to make history with a third statewide win inside of four years, after already becoming the first governor ever to make it through a recall bid.
If Democrats hope to have a shot at retaking control of the House, they'll have to beat GOP incumbents who occupy seats like one in Colorado -- a district that's about as evenly drawn as they come, in a state engaged in the vast social experiment of legalized pot.
Democrats hope to start their journey back to the majority by taking the late Rep. Bill Young's seat in Florida this March, in a district that twice voted for President Obama.
Up in New York, meanwhile, the 27-year-old same-sex husband of a Facebook cofounder is looking to channel the energy -- and the money -- of the Obama era into a Democratic pickup.
Democratic defense will define the year as well. In Arizona, one of Gabby Giffords' aides who was also injured in the shooting will try to hang on to the seat he barely secured in 2012. He might run against the same retired fighter pilot who almost beat him last time.
In New Hampshire, a House seat that's flipped party hands three times in the last four elections -- catching the national waves of 2006, 2010 and 2012 -- might get a rare third-in-a-row matchup between the incumbent and a former congressman.
There's another former member of Congress now living in New Hampshire, just maybe to run for Senate again: Scott Brown, best known for his pickup truck and the fact that he stole Ted Kennedy's Senate seat from the Democrats -- in Massachusetts.
“”As always, competing visions of government will be on the line.
In the category of familiar names, Michelle Nunn -- former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn's daughter -- is trying to reclaim a Deep South Senate seat where her best ally may be tea party-infused chaos on the Republican side.
Speaking of the tea party, activists from Alaska to Idaho to Mississippi and South Carolina are in search for GOP primary victories. Democrats stand ready to exploit the same GOP divisions that cost Republicans seats in 2010 and 2012.
As always, competing visions of government will be on the line.
The president's vow to make 2014 a "year of action" will rub against Republicans' efforts to steer Washington back their way. Big money groups are primed to play larger and earlier roles, in more campaigns and more directions than ever.
Democrats will be struggling for an identity to carry them forward in a post-Obama age. Hanging over them will be the new health care law that almost all of them supported -- with dynamics set to play out even as the campaigns do.
Demography is ultimately destiny, and Democrats are trying to push up the timeline of when they can hope to compete for victories in GOP strongholds like Georgia and Texas. Action -- or lack thereof -- on Obama priorities including immigration reform and gun control will be felt from California and Arizona to New Hampshire and Florida.
2014 will write the latest chapter in the American journey. Hang on for the ride.