A Snapshot of Contested Political Races in the Midwest.

By Branden Lewiston, Tory

The quirky yet quintessentially American region that brought us Jesse Ventura, Al Franken, and Rod Blagojevich promises to deliver many new electoral surprises this mid-term cycle. The common theme is that the national anti-establishment tide spells trouble for many incumbent Democrats in the region, but the politics of local personalities still promises to play a crucial role in these elections. With dozens of House seats, a few governorships, and some very important Senate seats (including Obama’s) now up for grabs, the Midwest will certainly be a region to watch come November.


Governor—The gubernatorial race in Illinois is set to be one of the most hotly contested in the country. The solidly-Democratic state will see Bill Brady (R), a conservative from downstate, challenge Pat Quinn, Blagojevich’s former Lieutenant Governor. While Obama’s home state has been consistently Democrat in the past few elections, Quinn’s associations with Blago and the economic problems that state have been facing leave the governorship up for grabs, with Brady currently boasting a narrow 2-point lead.

Senate—The Senate race for Obama’s former seat promises to be closely contested. Republican Congressman and military veteran Mark Kirk will take on Illinois State Treasurer and Democrat Alexi Giannoulias. The race currently is too close to call, as Kirk has a slim 1.2-point average lead in polling.

House—Alongside a hot gubernatorial and Senate race, Illinois has 5 House seats considered up-for-grabs, four of them featuring incumbent Democrats, and the other composed of two new faces. Incumbent Democrat Debbie Halvorson is trailing by 19 points to Republican challenger Adam Kinzinger in IL-11, and incumbent Democrat Bill Foster is 7 points behind Republican Randy Hultgren in IL-14. The other three notable House races are toss-ups, with the incumbent Melissa Bean (D) tied in polling with Joe Walsh (R) in IL-8, Robby Schilling (R) holding a narrow lead over incumbent Phil Hare (D) in IL-17, and Dan Seals (D) holding a similarly thin advantage over Bob Dold (R) in IL-10.


Senate—The influential Senator Evan Bayh declined to seek re-election after low initial polling, leaving an open Senate seat in this solidly conservative state. Conservative doesn’t necessarily guarantee a Republican victory though, as the Democrats have nominated Brad Ellsworth, a moderate Congressman and former Sheriff, to challenge Republican Dan Coats, former Senator and Army veteran. Polling currently reveals little about who will be victorious this November.

House—Indiana has two closely-contested House seats this mid-term. The first is in IN-2 between the Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly and the Republican challenger Jackie Walorski, with Donnelly currently holding a razor-thin 2-point lead in polling. The second contested race, in IN-8, is features Trent Van Haaften (D), a former prosecutor, and Larry Bucshon (R), a cardiologist. This race is also too close to call.


Governor—Incumbent Democrat Chet Culver is facing a perfect storm this election cycle: his largely unpopular, slightly left-wing policies don’t sit well with a middle-of-the-road conservative state; his challenger, Terry Branstad (R), is already Iowa’s longest-serving governor (from ’82 to ’98) and has a massive fundraising operation, and there is a general anti-incumbent mood sweeping the nation. Given this, it is no surprise that Branstad is currently ahead in polling by a 17-point margin and still has the fundraising to spread his lead even wider.

Senate—30-year Senate veteran and ranking Republican on the Finance Committee Chuck Grassley will face-off against former US Attorney Roxanne Conlin (D) this cycle. After some initial predictions of trouble for Grassley, his lead has consistently grown, and he now holds a 25-point advantage in polling. Iowans seem unlikely to turn away from their long-serving Senator.

House—Iowa has three contested House seats this year– all currently controlled by the Democrats– out of a total of 5 seats. That means Iowa could be crucial in determining the make-up of the next House. In the eastern and relatively liberal section of the state, incumbents Bruce Braley (IA-1) and Dave Loesback (IA-2) will face Ben Lange (R) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R), respectively. Both Democrats hold a decent lead in polling: 11% advantage for Braley, and 8% for Loesback. The Des Moines district (IA-3) also features a Democratic incumbent, Leonard Boswell, facing off against Republican challenger Brad Zaun. With summer polling showing a virtual tie, this race is too close to call.


Governor—Michigan has been a Democratic stronghold in recent years, but after a long, one-state recession throughout the 2000s and being particularly devastated by the financial crisis, all under Democratic leadership, it seems very possible that Michigan’s governorship will swing Republican this year. Rick Snyder (R), former venture capitalist, has a 19-point lead in polling over Virg Bernero (D), former Lansing mayor.

House—Three Democratic seats may swing Republican thing year in Michigan. The first is in MI-1, the former seat of Bart Stupak, who elected not to run. Republican Dan Benishek is beating out Democrat Gary McDowell by a 16-point margin in this seat. The other two Democratic incumbents in contested seats, Mark Schaeur from MI-7 and Gary Peters from MI-9, are behind in polling by a small but significant margin to their Republican challengers, Tim Walberg and Rocky Raczkowski, respectively.


Governor—The position once filled by Jesse Ventura is set again to be an irresistibly intriguing race. This time around, the show will involve three politicians—Mark Dayton (D), Tom Emmer (R), and Tom Horner (I). Dayton, a former Senator, has a 5-point lead over Emmer, a Minnesota legislator, while Horner, a legislator and professor, is taking up the rear with support from a meager 15% of likely voters.

House—Two House seats in the Land of a Thousand Lakes are closely contested, one held by an incumbent Democrat, Jim Oberstar from MN-8, and the other by an incumbent Republican, Michele Bachmann from MN-6. Their challengers are, respectively, Chip Cravaack (R) and Tarryl Clark (D). Both incumbents currently have a sizable yet not invincible polling advantage.


Senator—Missouri, historically a purple state, has a difficult choice to make this election cycle for an open Senate position. The Republicans have nominated Roy Blunt, a Congressman, to face-off against Robin Carnahan, Secretary of State for Missouri. Both candidates have extensive family involvement in politics; Blunt’s son was recently Governor of Missouri, and the Carnahan’s family’s involvement in high-level Missouri politics is too lengthy to list. After initial polling put Carnahan out front, Blunt has caught up and now maintains a 7-point advantage.

House—Two incumbent Democrats will have to fight for their political future in Missouri this election year. In the 3rd district, representing southern St Louis and parts of the eastern portion of the state,  Russ Carnahan (D), the brother of the Senate-hopeful Robin Carnahan, will face challenger Ed Martin (R). The 4th district, comprising most of the western and rural areas in the state, will decide between the incumbent Democrat Ike Skelton and Republican challenger Vicky Hartzler. Both Democrats show sturdy leads in polling.


Senate—The Ohio Senate race will feature former Bush OMB Director and US Trade Representative Rob Portman (R) vs Lt. Governor Lee Fisher (D). Portman’s unpopular association with Bush and his involvement in international trade don’t fare well for him in a rust-belt state worried about out-sourcing, yet nevertheless Portman still maintains a 15-point advantage in polling.

Governor—Incumbent Governor Ted Strickland (D) is in for the fight of his life against John Kasich (R). Strickland’s term has been plagued by a bad economy and scandals, including a mass-leak of Social Security Numbers of citizens from a member of his office. Kasich, a former Congressman and member of the budget committee, has his own problems because of a recent stint at Lehman Brothers. Regardless, the anti-establishment mood has helped to give Kasich a 4-point lead in polling.

House—A grand total of 7 House races in Ohio are up-for-grabs this cycle, 6 of them involving Democratic incumbents. Current polling shows that 3 of those Democrats are falling behind their various Republican challengers, and may lose their jobs (OH-1, 15, 16). The other 4 races are generally too close to call (OH-6, 12, 13, 18).


Governor—Wisconsin will have a new Governor this year, and their choices are between son of a preacher and former County Executive of Milwaukee, Scott Walker (R), and former Mayor of Milwaukee, Tom Barrett (D). This election is particularly interesting in the relative lack of national—or even state—experience from either candidate, which helps to remove the tide of anti-establishment feelings from this election. Despite this, the Republican Walker still shows a solid 9-point lead in polling

Senate—The powerful Senator Russ Feingold (D) may not survive this election cycle, as is hoped by challenger Ron Johnson (R). Johnson, a self-made entrepreneur with little political experience, will face one of the most established, yet also rogue figures in Washington. Currently, the incumbent Feingold is trailing by 9 points in polling, but it is too soon to count out such a seasoned political veteran.

House—Two Democrats, Ron Kind (WI-3) and Steve Kagen (WI-8), are in close races this year. Dan Kapanke (R), Kind’s challenger, is currently behind in polling, while Reid Ribble (R), Kagen’s challenger, has a double-digit lead. Additionally, Wisconsin has an open seat (WI-7), where Republican Sean Duffy, a district attorney and former contestant on The Real World, has a comfortable 9-point lead over Democrat Julie Lassa.

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