Presidential swing states: Other races to watch

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October 24, 2012


Florida. Ohio. Colorado. New Hampshire. You've no doubt heard a lot of talk about the presidential swing states. With just two weeks left until the general election, political reporters across the country consider anywhere from 3 to 10 states to be toss-ups in the race for the presidency. Here at the Lucy Burns Institute, our election analysts have focused on nine of those states with significant non-presidential races to present a full picture of the 2012 elections in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Whether it's a congressional race pitting two incumbents against each other, a state legislative chamber that is one seat away from switching from a Democratic to a Republican majority, or a judicial election that will decide the balance of a state Supreme Court, the teams at Ballotpedia and Judgepedia have a breakdown of everything you'll want to watch in these key states.


Colorado voters will decide an important ballot measure this year; Amendment 64, on the November 6, 2012 ballot as an initiated constitutional amendment, which would legalize recreational marijuana in the state. The measure will ask whether or not to legalize the use and possession of, at most, an ounce of marijuana for residents who are 21 and older. President Barack Obama's and Republican candidate Mitt Romney's stance regarding marijuana legalization, regulation and taxation like alcohol is expected to influence the young voter population in Colorado.

After redistricting, two Congressional districts are considered to be up for grabs: the 6th District where incumbent Republican Mike Coffman (Colorado) is facing current state representative Joe Miklosi (D). The other seat that could swing is in the 3rd District, where freshman GOP representative Scott Tipton will attempt to hold off a challenge from Democratic state representative Sal Pace.

In the state House and state Senate, 32 incumbents are not seeking re-election - 16 from each party. One seat to pay close attention to is House District 47, from which Keith Swerdfeger (R) is retiring, leaving a seat for Democrats to potentially pick up. Netto Charles Rodosevich (D) will face Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff (R) in the general election.


In 2010, the Florida Supreme Court upheld three lower court rulings that struck three legislatively referred ballot measures from appearing on the statewide ballot that year. This year, the Florida Legislature passed a measure to the 2012 general election ballot that would revise provisions relating to repeal of court rules, limit readoption of repealed court rule and stipulate that all appointments to the Florida Supreme Court be subject to confirmation by the Florida State Senate. The proposed legislation also grants the state House access to investigate files of the Judicial Qualifications Commission. Although the measure, Amendment 5, is not an issue being discussed in the presidential race, any controversial or scrutinized measure in this swing state could send a rush of voters to the polls. On a related note, conservatives are leading a strong effort to oust Supreme Court Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince. The justices are under fire for various rulings in support of federal healthcare legislation, the death penalty and other controversial topics.

Florida gained two Congressional seats as a result of redistricting. Predictions vary, but as many as eight U.S. House seats could be in play. Perhaps more significant is the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Bill Nelson (D) and U.S. House Rep. Connie Mack (R). The seat leans in Nelson's favor and he has polled out front. With the control of the Senate a toss-up, any close Senate battle is pivotal to both parties.


An anti-retention effort against Justice David Wiggins is underway, led by conservatives who are upset with Wiggins' participation in a unanimous 2009 ruling to overturn the state's ban on gay marriage. The other three justices who voted in the case were not retained to their positions in 2010.

Iowa lost one Congressional seat as a result of redistricting. This has prompted an incumbent-vs-incumbent battle between Leonard Boswell (D) and Tom Latham (R) in the 3rd District. Though it's not an incumbent match up, the race in 4th District is also expected to be very close, as incumbent Steve King (R) faces former First Lady of Iowa Christie Vilsack (D).

In the state Senate, Democrats hold a slim 26 to 24 majority, while Republicans have a 59 to 40 majority in the state House. Races to watch include Senate district 26, where incumbent Mary Jo Wilhelm (D) will face incumbent Merlin Bartz (R), and House district 13 with incumbents Chris Hall (D) and Jeremy Taylor (R) battling it out for the seat.


One of the most closely-watched ballot measures of the year comes from Maine. The state is one place in the country where the issue of gay marriage is starting to draw serious attention from both sides. Maine Question 1 would overturn a voter-approved 2009 ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in the state.

With Republican incumbent Olympia Snowe retiring, the U.S. Senate seat in Maine is now considered a toss-up. The current frontrunner is former Governor of Maine Angus King, an Independent, who is expected to caucus with Democrats should he win the seat. King faces Cynthia Dill (D) and Charles Summers (R) in the election (along with several other third party candidates).

Republicans hold small majorities in both state legislative chambers. In Senate District 27, incumbent Douglas Thomas (R) is challenged by representative Herbert Clark (D). Clark is attacking Thomas by drawing attention to an unpopular proposed highway project that passes through the district. House district 94 will see the Assistant Democratic Leader Teresea Hayes opposed by Timothy Turner (R). Hayes narrowly kept her seat in 2012, escaping with a 2,122 - 2,012 victory.


Though the Michigan Supreme Court race is technically nonpartisan, it has been riddled with partisan conflict between the three Republican-endorsed candidates (Stephen Markman and Colleen O'Brien for the full term; Brian Zahra for the partial term) and three Democratic-endorsed candidates (Connie Marie Kelley and Bridget Mary McCormack for the full term; Shelia Johnson for the partial term). The loaded races have a total of ten candidates running for three seats on the court.

Michigan lost one congressional seat via redistricting. Of particular note is the 11th District, where incumbent Thaddeus McCotter (R) failed to qualify for the ballot and then subsequently resigned his seat. Tea Party-backed candidate Kerry Bentivolio will attempt to hold the seat for Republicans in both the regular election and a concurrent special election as well. He will face Syed Taj in the general election -- and David Curson (D) in the special election.

One measure garnering attention in Michigan is Proposal 4. The initiative would place features of the Michigan Quality Community Care Council in the state constitution, in addition to providing home health care providers with limited collective bargaining. Collective bargaining rights has been an issue under much debate since 2011, when Ohio's Senate Bill 5 took center stage.

New Hampshire

Incumbent Democratic Governor John Lynch (D) is not running for re-election. Former state senator Maggie Hassan (D) faces Ovide Lamontagne (R) in the general election. Polls are indicating a very close race for the governorship, which is one of only eleven gubernatorial races this year.

Both congressional districts in New Hampshire are in play. Currently, both seats are held by Republicans. Both races feature rematches from 2010, between Democrat Carol Shea-Porter and Frank Guinta in the 1st District and between Democrat Ann Kuster and Charlie Bass in the 2nd District.

North Carolina

After winning control of the state legislature in 2010, Republicans in North Carolina redrew the congressional redistricting map to swing in the GOP favor. Presently, seven of the 13 seats are held by Democratic incumbents, but several seats are expected to change hands in North Carolina on election night. The races of particular note are the 7th, 8th, 11th and 13th districts.

A total of 10 state executive positions are up for election this year in North Carolina. Democratic governor Bev Perdue is not running for re-election and Republican Pat McCrory is polling comfortably ahead of the Democratic nominee, current lieutenant governor Walter Dalton. The Republican Party is expected to gain a trifecta on election night by winning the governorship and maintaining control of both chambers of the legislature.

This year's North Carolina Supreme Court election could shift the balance of the court. Though the state's judicial races are technically nonpartisan, the political parties have each made their positions clear. The Republican-backed incumbent, Justice Paul Martin Newby, is challenged by Democrat-endorsed Sam Ervin. Currently, the political balance favors conservatives 4-3. A number of laws passed by Republicans in the General Assembly are currently being challenged in lawsuits that could find their way to the high court -- raising the stakes of this election even higher.


With three contested races for the Ohio Supreme Court, a variety of outcomes is possible. The results won't shift the court's conservative composition, which is 6-1 Republican, but they could serve as a bellwether for other Ohio races. Appointed incumbent Justice Yvette McGee Brown is competing in her first race to the court. If she wins election, Brown will be the first Democrat elected to the court since 2000. A willingness for Ohio voters to elect a Democrat to the high court may signify a shift of opinions in the perennially watched state.

The redistricting process in Ohio this year didn't come without controversy, leading to Issue 2 on the general election ballot. The measure would create a 12-person citizen commission to draw legislative and congressional district maps. According to supporters of the measure, the commission would create districts that would reflect the state's geographic, racial, ethnic and political diversity. The initiative would also bar lobbyists and elected officials from joining the commission. Currently, the Ohio Legislature redraws district maps every ten years following U.S. Census results.

Ohio lost two congressional seats this year. In one of the tightest U.S. Senate races of the year, incumbent Sherrod Brown (D) is being challenged by current state treasurer Josh Mandel (R). Brown has maintained a slight lead in the polls as well as in fundraising. For the U.S. House, the 16th District race features an incumbent-vs-incumbent battle between Betty Sutton (D) and Jim Renacci (R). Another close race to watch is the rematch in the 6th District between incumbent Bill Johnson (R) and Charlie Wilson (D).


While the governor is not up for election, there are still three state executive elections taking place in Pennsylvania. The current attorney general, Linda Kelly, was appointed to the post by Gov. Tom Corbett and will not seek election to a full term. Democratic candidate Kathleen Kane, who edged out Patrick Murphy, the presumptive nominee, is polling out front of David Freed (R). Since the position became an elected post in 1980, no Democrat has ever won the office in a general election.

Both chambers of the legislature have the potential to swing from Republicans to Democrats. Republicans have a nine seat advantage in the Senate and a nineteen seat advantage in the House, but all four retiring Senators are Republicans. Close races in the Senate include open seats in Districts 15 and 49, while in the House Districts 3, 5, 37, and 197 (which is currently vacant) look to be some of the most competitive.

Pennsylvania lost one congressional seat as a result of redistricting. Currently Republicans hold 13 of the 19 seats in the state. Several races are considered to be competitive, including the 6th District, 7th District, 8th District and 12th District. The 12th District is of particular note because it featured an incumbent-vs-incumbent battle in the primary, where Mark Critz (D) emerged victorious over Jason Altmire. Critz faces a strong challenge from Keith Rothfus (R) in the general election. If Rothfus wins, it would mean two incumbents lost within the same district in one election cycle -- an extremely rare occurrence.

See also