As we begin the New Year, it’s time to look ahead to the important decisions we’ll be making in 2012—decisions which will play a significant role in the future of our great nation. This upcoming election season is one of unprecedented importance, which is why I’ve teamed up with Current TV to bring you the “12 in ’12″ races that have caught our eye in the early days of this critical campaign season.
1. The race for The White House
First on our list of contests to watch, of course, is the race for the White House. This will be the race that holds the nation’s attention throughout the year, so naturally it will be a focus for us at “The War Room,” too. Stay tuned for the latest news from the most exciting race in the country.
While many of the congressional districts and candidates are still sorting themselves out, the Senate races are already taking shape. A total of 34 Senate seats will be up for grabs in 2012; here are a few that have gained some prominence in these early days:
2. Elizabeth Warren vs. Scott Brown, Massachusetts
Democrats are making a major push to take Ted Kennedy’s seat back from Republican Scott Brown, and they have found the perfect candidate in Elizabeth Warren (D). Running on a pro-consumer, pro-middle class platform, recent polls show challenger Warren gaining momentum and pulling ahead in this race that is drawing considerable national attention.
3. Heidi Heitkamp vs. Rick Berg, North Dakota
This popular former Attorney General from North Dakota entered the race to replace the retiring Kent Conrad (D)—and she’s turned what was once thought to be a Republican pick-up into a closely contested race, with one recent poll showing Heitkamp (D) ahead of Republican favorite Rick Berg by 5 points. Can the Democrats keep this seat in the blue column?
4. Tim Kaine vs. George Allen, Virginia
This former Democratic governor has been neck-and-neck with former Republican Sen. George Allen (pictured, left) in every poll thus far, with neither candidate gaining a clear advantage in this evenly divided swing state. A Public Policy Polling poll taken in mid-December 2011 shows Kaine (pictured, right) pulling ahead by 5 points, but look for this race to stay close throughout the year.
5. Tammy Baldwin vs. (GOP candidate TBD), Wisconsin
Rep. Baldwin is the Democratic front-runner in the race to replace the retiring U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, while the Republicans are facing a bruising three-way primary between former Governor Tommy Thompson (R), former Representative Mark Neumann (R), and Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R). Between this race and the chance of a Governor Scott Walker (R) recall question on the ballot, Wisconsin will surely be one to watch this campaign season.
6. Sherrod Brown vs. Josh Mandel, Ohio
Republicans are facing a six-way primary, but with over $3 million in his war chest already, state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R, pictured right) looks to get the nod to be the Republican challenger. National groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS are already running ads in the state to discredit Brown (D)—showing that this seat is definitely a target for the Republicans this year, but recent polls show Brown has a healthy lead over Mandel.
7. Claire McCaskill vs. (GOP candidate TBD), Missouri
Sen. McCaskill (D) squeaked out a two-point win in 2006, and this year’s race figures to be very close as well. The Republican primary features a race between Congressman Todd Aiken (R) and former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman (R), with Steelman taking the lead in early polling. Head-to-head match-ups of these candidates against McCaskill show the race to be a toss-up in the early stages.
8. Shelley Berkley vs. Dean Heller, Nevada
Recent polls show that Berkley (D) is in a dead-heat with appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R). Democrats like to make the distinction that Heller is the only person to vote for Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan twice — once in the House and once in the Senate. Representative Berkley would need to win big in her district, which covers Las Vegas and while independents are currently showing a slight favoritism towards Heller, the race is practically even on approval ratings between the two.
9. Jon Tester vs. Denny Rehberg, Montana
While the state of Montana tends to lean Republican, Democrat Jon Tester (pictured, right) has shown strong approval ratings while serving in a Congress that has dismal approval ratings. A Montana Chamber of Congress poll showed Tester with a five-point lead over his challenger, Representative Denny Rehberg (R), but other polls suggest that this is a much closer race. Montana is also electing a new governor this year to replace the very popular Brian Schweitzer. Can the current governor help to sway the state to the Democrats overall?
Eleven governorships will be decided this year, drawing considerable attention in those states and ultimately serving to motivate voter interest and overall turnout. Will they have an effect on the national races being held at the same time and tip a state either way? We believe that they will. Here are a couple that may figure to have an impact:
10. Jay Inslee vs. Rob McKenna, Washington
This could turn into a very interesting race in a state that hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 1980, which is currently the longest Democratic winning streak in the nation. Republican challenger Attorney General Rob McKenna (pictured left) has strong name recognition across the state and is polling ahead of Inslee at this point, but with President Obama polling well ahead of the top Republican challengers here, will this be a state that can count on coattails? We believe it’s one to watch.
11. Joe Walsh vs. (Democratic candidate TBD),
Tea Party Representative Joe Walsh (R-IL), a freshman running in the Illinois 8th congressional district, faces off against the soon to-be-determined democratic candidate. What makes this race so interesting? A progressive SuperPAC called CREDO is targeting the Walsh race, along with other Tea Party Members in key districts as a “Take Down the Tea Party Ten” campaign. Democrat Tammy Duckworth, a former Black Hawk helicopter pilot and Iraq War veteran, is running against Raja Krishnamoorthi for what looks like will be a close Democratic primary race this March.
12. Paul Ryan vs. Rob Zerban, Wisconsin
As a bonus, let’s add one House race to the list—it’s one that is already drawing national interest—the run for Wisconsin’s 1st congressional district, currently held by chairman of the House Budget Committee Republican Paul Ryan. Since introducing a radical federal budget and his plan to end Medicare as we know it and turn it into a voucher system, the Congressman has been a polarizing figure across the country. All eyes will be on the district to see if Kenosha County supervisor Rob Zerban can mount a serious challenge to the very well-funded Ryan. The recent turmoil in Wisconsin over Governor Scott Walker should serve to galvanize turnout in a Democratic base for a state that overwhelmingly voted for President Obama in 2008.
Those are “12 in ’12″ that we will be keeping an eye on to start.