Out of Reach? 25 House Races to Watch on Election Night

A look at 25 of the top match-ups worth watching on Election Day.

ByABC News
November 5, 2012, 1:12 PM

Nov. 6, 2012 -- intro: There are 435 seats in the House of Representatives, and here is a look at 25 of the top match-ups worth watching on Election Day.

Most are highly competitive and expensive races, while others are notable simply for the political characters on the ticket, including a migrant worker-turned-astronaut and a double-amputee Iraq War veteran who are both challenging GOP freshmen and stand a chance of winning.

There are also unconventional candidates like a Republican black woman and an openly homosexual GOP candidate, both mounting competitive challenges to knock off long-time Democratic incumbents.

In order to regain majority control, Democrats need to have a net gain of 25 seats to overcome the Republicans' 50 seat majority. Democrats are also defending a handful of districts where incumbents have retired, leaving the majority that much more difficult to attain.

The actual verdict will be decided by the voters, but with Mitt Romney neck-and-neck with President Obama, the general consensus is that House Speaker John Boehner and his Republican colleagues will almost certainly hold onto the majority in the lower chamber.

Even if Romney loses every swing state, GOP campaign operatives forecast losing only 15 or 20 House races. The closer the presidential race is, the lower the chance for volatility down the ticket. GOP operatives are bullish, predicting Democrats could make meager gains but fall well short of the majority. Democratic aides, on the other hand, privately concede 2012 will likely end as a missed opportunity.

quicklist: 1title: Mia Love vs.Jim Matheson category: Utah-4 text: This Toss-up race pits a tough Democrat incumbent against a small-town mayor who could smash a proverbial glass ceiling by becoming the first black woman to serve as a Republican in Congress.

Jim Matheson has long been a top target for House Republicans, but the fiscally moderate Blue Dog has always managed to hold off his challengers. ABC's Jon Karl has interviewed Love multiple times, including for a Spinners and Winners episode last May, and recently at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Republicans are working to tie Mitt Romney's popularity in this congressional district to Love's budding candidacy. In a recent campaign ad, Love, the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, utilizes audio from a Romney robocall where the Republican presidential nominee urges voters to support Love in her campaign.

"Mia is the only candidate in the race that will fight to reign in reckless spending and to lower taxes," Romney is heard saying in the ad as a ringing phone is shown on the screen. "I hope you'll join me in supporting Mia in the upcoming election so that Utah's voice can help lead this country back to an economic recovery."

Romney is popular in the district, Utah-4, and the GOP has not been shy about tying his candidacy to Love's with the hope of boosting her chances for victory. In addition to today's video ad from Friends of Mia Love, another ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee not only prominently features Romney, but it also paints Matheson as puppet of President Obama. The ad slams Matheson for supporting the president's "liberal agenda" while promoting Love as she smiles in a photograph with Romney.

"The more Republicans can tell the story about [Love's] support for and from Romney, the better," one senior GOP campaign operative said. "Matheson, meanwhile, has been very vocal about his support for Obama and his policies."

Last August Love delivered a widely acclaimed speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa and she also served as the master of ceremonies for a Romney fundraiser in September. His son, Josh Romney, is also an informal adviser to Love and has campaigned in Utah on her behalf.

Matheson, a six-term Democrat, has been a top target for House Republicans in recent years, but the fiscally moderate Blue Dog has always managed to hold off his challengers in previous elections. Still, Matheson is sometimes described as a conservative Democrat, and recently won the endorsement of businessman and philanthropist Jon Huntsman, Sr., the father of former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, Jr., who ran a failed bid for the Republican nomination for president.media:17645812

quicklist: 2title: Allen West vs. Patrick Murphy category: Fla.-18 text: This Toss-up race is a nasty one, with the always-opinionated Tea Party trash-talking Allen West, taking on his opponent in what may be the best House ad of the election cycle.

In the ad, the former Army lieutenant colonel contrasts what both men were doing Feb. 16, 2003. West was preparing to deploy to Iraq while then-college student Murphy was arrested for verbally assaulting a police officer. Murphy is the VP of Coastal Environmental Services, which specializes in disaster relief and environmental cleanup. He also spent six months cleaning up oil in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP spill in 2010.

The momentum in this race seems to be shifting toward Murphy, with outside groups like the Young Guns Action Network pitching in $250,000 and working to save West from defeat. With less than 24 hours on the clock, one senior Democratic operative maintains that West is in deep trouble and the result will be "as tight as can be." Republicans predict West hangs on, winning a close race 51-49.media: 17645842

quicklist: 3title: Brad Sherman vs. Howard Berman category: Calif.-30 text: This bitter "Blue on Blue" race is one of the most expensive in the country and features two Democratic incumbents facing off thanks to redistricting in California. The two nearly came to blows during a debate October 11. The Democratic duo received the most votes in the June primary and went on to the general election because of California's new blanket primary system, which sends the top two finishers to a runoff regardless of party affiliation. Sherman received 42.4 percent of the vote while Berman won 32.4 percent.

Berman, who is running for his 16th term, is the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs committee, while Sherman is seeking a ninth term in the House. This is one of two Dem-on-Dem races this year.media:

quicklist: 4title: Laura Richardson vs. Janice Hahn category: Calif.-44 text: Another D-on-D race in the Golden State worth watching is the ethically challenged Richardson vs. freshman Janice Hahn, who has been endorsed by the California State Party and seems to have the clear edge in this race, having defeated Richardson in the primary, 60.06 percent to 39.94 percent.

In August, Richardson was reprimanded and fined $10,000 for seven ethics violations, including improper usage of House resources after a lengthy investigation. This district includes South Los Angeles. media:

quicklist: 5title: Jim Renacci vs. Betty Sutton category: Ohio-16 text: Two incumbents face off in this toss-up high-spending race for control of a merged swing district. Renacci, a freshman Republican who favors limited government, is squaring off against Sutton, who paints herself as a protector of the middle class.

Republicans have poured money into this race, highlighting Sutton's opposition to the GOP bill to extend all of the current tax rates as a job-killer. This is one of two races this cycle where a Republican incumbent and Democratic incumbent are running against each other.

One Republican campaign operative said that both candidates in this race have had their images screwed up by lots of outside groups infusing cash into the district. The source predicted that if Renacci wins, it will be because Romney carries the congressional district and brings the GOP freshman along with him. And to complement that point, if Renacci wins this race, Romney has good shot to win Ohio. Still, Sutton has hung on despite the demographics of the district. media:

quicklist: 6title: Tom Latham vs. Leonard Boswell category: Iowa-3 text: In this leaning-Republican district that includes Des Moines, nine-term Boehner ally Latham takes on eight-term Pelosi foot soldier Boswell. This is one of two House races that pits a GOP incumbent against a Democrat incumbent. Karl Rove's 'Crossroads GPS' PAC has dumped a considerable amount of money into the race on Latham's behalf, and Boswell is getting hit for being a big spender in Washington.

Latham also has more cash than Boswell and at the end of the day, Boswell is running low on cash. He also hasn't run a single positive ad, but Democratic campaign operatives are hoping strong early vote numbers will signal a win for their underdog. media:

quicklist: 7 title: Richard Tisei vs. John Tierney category: Mass.-6 text: Tisei, the former State Senate minority leader, has the opportunity to become the first openly homosexual congressional Republican if he wins this race against Tierney, who is seeking his ninth term in the House. Massachusetts's electoral votes are headed for President Obama, and Elizabeth Warren seems poised to defeat Sen. Scott Brown in the senate race, so Democratic operatives are clinging to hope for Tierney. Speaker Boehner recently dropped by Boston for a fundraiser with Tisei, and John McCain and Sen. Scott Brown also joined Tisei for a campaign rally in Massachusetts on Oct. 20.

Throughout the campaign, Tisei has outraised Tierney. The race was long thought to be a tossup, but with the momentum on Tisei's side, ABC has rated this contest a Lean Republican.

There have also been questions, first detailed in a report by the Boston Globe, about Tierney's brother-in-law's gambling business in Antigua, and whether Tierney intentionally neglected to include about $233,000 of income his wife received from that investment on their tax returns.

Jon Karl profiled Tisei for Spinners and Winners last June. Campaign operatives say that if Tisei wins and Republicans are competitive in the northeast, it will demonstrate that Democrats have a long way to go to capture the majority.media:

quicklist: 8title: Bobby Schilling vs. Cheri Bustoscategory: Ill.-17 text: GOP pizza man freshman Bobby Schilling is in a Lean-Democrat race against Democrat Bustos that has become one of most expensive races around.

Bustos is a former newspaper writer who served a couple of terms on the East Moline city council, and she is in good position to knock off a Republican incumbent. Schilling, the owner of St. Giuseppe's Heavenly Pizza, complained to the FEC that Bustos has illegally coordinated her campaign with the House Majority PAC. Bustos criticizes Schilling for voting for the Ryan budget blueprint and is driving the Medicare message for a seat the DCCC is hopeful to pick up.

One GOP aide I spoke with predicted a Schilling defeat thanks to the gains Democrats took a hold of during redistricting. This aide said that even though Schilling and fellow GOP Illinois freshman Robert Dold are running two of the best campaigns in the country, they're in two so-called 'orphan' districts and could both lose in the president's home state. If Schilling wins, there's another storyline showing Republican could win in district that'll almost certainly go to President Obama.media:

quicklist: 9title: Frank Guinta vs. Carol Shea-Porter category: N.H.-1 text: Rematch! Freshman Republican Frank Guinta rode the electoral wave two years ago to knock off former Rep. Shea-Porter, 54-42, but they're squaring off once again in a toss-up race for the Granite State's first congressional district. This is a classic example of a Pelosi Democrat vs. a 2010 Young Gun conservative Republican.

As a member, Shea-Porter voted for the stimulus and Obamacare, serving two terms in the House before losing her seat in 2010. There has been lots of influence in this district from outside groups, who have labeled Shea-Porter as a rubber stamp for Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

"She's a known commodity," one GOP operative said. "Liberals love her, but conservatives hate her." GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan campaigned with Guinta, his budget committee colleague, in mid-September and Republican aides predict Guinta is going to be fine. Still, the winner of this race will likely ride the coattails of the top of the ticket, placing the prospect for victory on how well Romney or Obama turn out voters here. media:

quicklist: 10 title: David Rivera vs. Joe Garcia category: Fla.-26 text: Rematch! ABC News rates this district as Lean Democrat. Rivera, who is often mentioned as one of Sen. Marco Rubio's best friends and political allies, is ethically challenged this time around as he faces FBI and IRS investigations into his personal and campaign finances. Garcia, the son of Cuban exiles, is a former University of Miami class president. He first ran for the House in 2008, losing to Mario Diaz-Balart by six points.

In 2009, President Obama appointed him to run the Office of Minority Economic Impact and Diversity at the U.S. Department of Energy. Garcia then ran for the House again in 2010, that time against Rivera, who beat him 52-42.

This time, GOP insiders concede Rivera is widely expected to lose, as he's one of the most vulnerable freshman Republicans. Democratic polls also show Garcia picking up momentum. For Garcia, the third time could be the charm.media:

quicklist: 11title: Joe Walsh vs. Tammy Duckworth category: IL-8 text: Redistricting in Illinois didn't do Walsh any favors, and rather than face a tough primary against one of his GOP colleagues, he opted to run in a Democrat-heavy district where he faces tough odds for re-election. ABC News rates this race as Likely Democrat. If Walsh pulls out a victory here, it would signal a great night for Republicans across the country.

Duckworth is a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois National Guard, and a veteran of the Iraq War, where she was highly decorated after the Black Hawk helicopter she piloted was shot down by an RPG. She lost both her legs and part of an arm in the crash. She also ran for the House in an unsuccessful attempt in 2008. Later President Obama appointed her an Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Walsh, a Tea Party favorite, has put his foot in his mouth on occasion during the campaign, especially when he complained to supporters that all Duckworth talks about is her military experience, while other heroic veterans don't tout their service in the military as openly. Walsh fervently supports a balanced budget amendment, and he fought against raising the debt ceiling in 2010. One GOP campaign operative said that Walsh has kept the race within striking distance thanks in large part to the Now or Never Super PAC buying two weeks of television adverting for Walsh at $2 million in the pricey Chicago market. media: 17645925

quicklist: 12title: Chris Gibson vs. Julian Schreibman category: N.Y.-19 text: One of the Democrats' most-prized candidates, Schreibman received the Attorney General's Distinguished Service Award for assisting in the prosecution and conviction of four al Qaeda members for bombing U.S. embassies. Republicans have tried to paint Schreibman as another Democrat loyalist who signaled support for the stimulus. Gibson spent 24 years in the Army and was deployed overseas seven times, including four tours in Iraq. ABC News rates this race as a toss-up. Campaign operatives on both sides predict a close race that goes down to the wire. media:

quicklist: 13title: Kathy Hochul vs. Chris Collins category: N.Y.-27 text: In her special election victory, Hochul ran against Paul Ryan's Path to Prosperity budget, lambasting it for removing the Medicare guarantee. Now she's suffering the consequences as outside groups hit her for her support for the health care reform law and her opposition to a Republican bill to extend all of the current tax rates.

Collins, the Erie County Executive, promotes himself as a fiscally conservative successful small businessman with 36 years in the private sector who favors small government. Speaker Boehner dropped through Buffalo in early October on Collins' behalf and this Republican-tilting district could be a bellwether race.

Throughout the campaign, the speaker has traveled to orphan districts with GOP incumbents in places like California, Illinois and New York, where President Obama enjoyed victory in 2008. If Hochul loses here, it could signal a long night for Democrats. ABC News rates this race as a Lean Republican.media:

quicklist: 14title: Joe Kennedy vs. Sean Bielat category: Mass.-4 text: This is an Open Race, but the Kennedy dynasty will almost certainly be restored when Robert Kennedy's 31-year-old grandson is elected this fall to this Safe Democrat seat.

Joseph P. Kennedy III is hoping to help Democrats retain Barney Frank's district. He's the son of former Rep. Joe Kennedy II and he's got an impressive resume as a Harvard Law graduate, a former member of the Peace Corps, and prosecutor who most recently worked as an Assistant District Attorney for Middlesex County, Massachusetts.

Kennedy is running against Republican newbie Sean Bielat, a former Marine-turned-businessman. During the race's only debate, Bielat belittled Kennedy, telling him, "Other than your family and background, you just don't have the qualifications" to be a member of Congress.media: 17646135

quicklist: 15title: Dan Webster vs. Val Demings category: Fla.-10 text: This race matches a Republican freshman against the first black woman to serve as Orlando's Chief of Police. Val Demings is respected for being tough on crime during her tenure in law enforcement.

Like Marco Rubio, Dan Webster once served as Florida's speaker of the house.

ABC News rates this district as Lean Republican, and polls show the race tightening. One Republican campaign operative warned that Webster is poised for a loss and is an example of a "sh*tty incumbent." The aide said Webster wasn't paying attention, did not raise any money for two years, and "that's why he's going to lose."

Another GOP campaign operative used even more colorful language to describe Webster, who represents a district that is a R+6 constituency. This district is described as the ultimate swing area and it has been saturated for 10 months with campaign advertising. The winner of this race will likely ride the coattails of the top of the ticket, and Romney's apparent lead in Florida is good news for Webster. media:

quicklist: 16title: Jeff Denham vs. Jose Hernandez category: Calif.-10 text: Another highly competitive and expensive race in an orphan district. "Astro Jose" -- a former NASA astronaut -- is challenging Denham, a freshman Republican. Outside groups friendly to Republicans are hitting Hernandez as opportunistic and someone who supports bailouts and the stimulus.

The son of Mexican immigrants, Hernandez has said he did not learn to speak English until he was 12 years old. He was a migrant worker before he joined NASA, where he flew on the space shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station in 2009. Bill Clinton stumped for Hernandez in October.

Prior to winning his seat in 2010, Denham made his living as a farmer and is an Iraq war veteran. He gained fame in Congress for his lead role examining wasteful spending at GSA.

ABC News rates this seat as toss-up, but this is a good race for Democrats and they could get a win here, according to campaign aides on both sides of the aisle. One Republican campaign operative put it simply: "It's going to be close," while a Democrat predicted the race will be a "barnburner to the end." media:

quicklist: 17title: Michele Bachmann vs. Jim Graves category: Minn.-6 text: Michele Bachmann had the most expensive House race in 2010, and the former GOP presidential wannabe is on pace to repeat that in this election.

Graves is a hotel and restaurant developer from St. Cloud running for office for the first time. The DCCC named Graves to the Red to Blue program, which pumps resources into the accounts of challengers perceived to be in competitive races against GOP incumbents.

Bachmann was perceived as a safe incumbent, but ABC News recently downgraded her chances from Safe Republican to Lean Republican.

With someone as outspoken and controversial as Bachmann, the chairwoman of the Tea Party Caucus, this is a race worth keeping an eye on. One Republican operative says he doesn't see it happening for Graves, but because Bachmann has been very guarded about sharing her internal polling numbers he could not rule it out. Another campaign operative guessed that Bachmann "will probably win" because she has a lot of money and has proven in the past that she can fend for herself. Democrats admit Bachmann' s seat is still an uphill race.media: 17646208

quicklist: 18title: Nan Hayworth vs. Sean Patrick Maloney category: N.Y.-18 text: This is a race that ABC News rates as a Lean Republican, with momentum recently shifting towards Haworth, but campaign operatives on both sides say this orphan district is essentially a coin toss. Hayworth, an ophthalmologist by trade, is a freshman Republican who wants to repeal Obamacare and also opposes Dodd-Frank financial reform. Maloney is an attorney, former Clinton staffer, and also is openly homosexual. George Soros has dropped money into this district on behalf of Maloney. media:

quicklist: 19title: Andy Barr vs. Ben Chandler category: Ky.-6 text: This is another rematch from 2010, and it'll likely be close again this time. Barr, a Lexington attorney who teaches law part time at Morehead State University, lost to Chandler two years ago by only about 600 votes, and ABC News rates this rematch a toss-up in this Republican leaning distinct.

Chandler, a Blue Dog Democrat who is seeking his sixth term, is fiscally conservative. He is also mentioned as a possible candidate for governor of the Bluegrass State, although he had a failed attempt for that position in 2003 before running for Congress. This race could be a bellwether for the presidential contest, as it will be one of the earliest returns to watch.media:

quicklist: 20title: Mark Critz vs. Keith Rothfus category: Pa.-12 text: Having defeated fellow Democrat Jason Altmire in a primary last April, Critz is in another bruising battle to hold onto this redrawn district, which includes most of the area represented by the late Rep. John Murtha, who Critz served with as a congressional aide.

There is a ton of money flowing into this race from outside groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the House Majority PAC. Campaign operatives predict Romney will carry this district, and could improve Rothfus's chances. Rothfus, an attorney by trade who also worked for the Department of Homeland Security, ran a failed bid for the House in 2010, largely shaping his campaign against the stimulus spending policies of the Obama administration. The YG Network, a super PAC ran by former aides to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, recently released an ad here that replays candidate/then-Senator Obama's comments about Pennsylvania voters clinging to guns and religion. This race has only become more competitive as the political environment has tightened in western Pennsylvania, and one GOP aide said it could be so close that it results in a recount. media:

quicklist: 21title: Ricky Gill vs. Jerry McNerney category: Calif.-9 text: If elected, Gill, 25, would become the youngest member of the House of Representatives. Millions of dollars in outside money has been dumped into this closely watched race, which ABC News rates as Lean Democrat. Gill is a Princeton graduate who holds a law degree from University of California-Berkeley although he has not passed the California bar exam so he cannot practice law yet. Gill, who has the support of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Speaker Boehner and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, has outraised McNerney, who is seeking his fourth term in the House.

McNerney has attempted to paint Gill as an unemployed novice who is hanging onto the coattails of his wealthy parents. But redistricting has given the impression to voters that McNerney is an outsider, especially since he relocated to the San Joaquin Valley to run for reelection. Still, even GOP campaign aides predict McNerney will fend off Gill's challenge, pointing out that Democrats should make some gains in California, and this is a great place to start.media:

quicklist: 22title: Lois Capps vs. Abel Maldonadocategory: Calif.-24 text: This is another seat where Republicans have an opportunity to play a little offense in their quest to knock off a Democratic incumbent. Thanks to California redistricting, Capps went from representing a D+12 district to D+2.

Super PACs have been dumping money into this race, which ABC News recently moved to toss-up.

Just days before the election, Tom Del Beccaro, the chairman of the California Republican Party, filed an ethics complaint against Capps to demand an investigation into whether she violated House rules by renting out a room to a staffer without reporting the income on her financial disclosures. Her campaign dismissed those charges, pointing out that Capps, who is seeking an eight term, reported the error herself and was told by the House Ethics committee that she did not commit any violations.

Maldonado is a former lieutenant governor of the Golden State who also served in the state Senate. While the race has tightened, even Republicans confess Capps will probably hold on for a victory.media:

quicklist: 23title: John Dingell vs. Cynthia Kallgren category: Mich.-12 text: Dingell is widely expected to win his 30th term in the House of Representatives. He's the longest serving member of the House in U.S. history, serving since December 13, 1955. If Dingell wins and serves until June 8, 2013, he will become the longest-serving member of Congress in American history. This is a Safe Democrat seat. Kallgren is a former educator, homemaker, small businesswoman and community advocate, according to her campaign website biography.media:

quicklist: 24title: Jesse Jackson, Jr. vs. Brian Woodworth category: Ill.-2 text: This is a Safe Democrat district, but it remains to be seen whether Jackson can mount a political comeback after taking a medical leave due to bipolar disorder and overcome a new federal investigation examining whether he misused campaign finances to redecorate his Washington home. Plus, there's that whole ethics investigation into whether Jackson tried to buy an appointment to the U.S. Senate from former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Jackson is being challenged by Republican Brian Woodworth and independent Marcus Lewis. One GOP aide drew a parallel between this race and an unexpected win for Republicans in Louisiana in 2008 when William "Cold Cash" Jefferson was defeated by long-shot Joseph Cao in a district that was three-quarters Democrat.

Jackson will be watching election returns from the Mayo Clinic, where he was recently readmitted after he complained he was unable to go to doctor appointments with reporters staking out his home in Washington. Does Congressman 'MIA' have what it takes to win reelection without appearing in public since June?media: 17646041

quicklist: 25title: Paul Ryan vs. Rob Zerban category: Wisc.-1 text: If the Romney/Ryan ticket loses, it'll be interesting to see if President Obama has enough up-ticket effect in the Dairyland battleground to knock Ryan out of his congressional seat. ABC News rates this seat as Safe Republican and Republicans insist they are not worried about this race.

The main reason Ryan ran nine campaign ads was to ensure that his reelection number doesn't drop far below previous reelection numbers, so he's not perceived as weak. Democrats concede a pick up here is unlikely. media: 17646230