In the 2014 elections, Republicans need to net a six-seat pickup to retake control of the U.S. Senate. They have high hopes, but there is little room for error. In the House, Democrats need a net gain of 17 seats next year to gain majority control and return Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to the speaker’s chair. Here are seven key races to watch in each chamber:
•ALASKA: In 2010, Tea Party candidate Joe Miller shocked the GOP by defeating incumbent Lisa Murkowski in a primary; she came back to win re-election as a write-in candidate. Now Miller is expected to be one of three candidates vying for the Republican nomination to challenge Mark Begich, the first-term Democratic incumbent. Other Republicans who could be strong candidates: Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and Dan Sullivan, former head of the state’s natural resources department.
•LOUISIANA: Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu has been called vulnerable in each of her three prior Senate races, and her fourth run is no different. Louisiana regularly votes Republican in presidential years, and Landrieu’s support of the Affordable Care Act has not helped boost her popularity. Her opponent, Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, staunchly opposes the law although he introduced health care legislation while a state senator in Louisiana.
•ARKANSAS: Mark Pryor is a moderate Democrat hoping for a third term. His voting record on the Affordable Care Act in increasingly conservative Arkansas, coupled with a strong Republican challenge, may hamper that. Republicans have quickly coalesced around Tom Cotton, a young freshman congressman who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. This race will be a huge spend for partisans on both sides of the aisle.
•KENTUCKY: Americans are frustrated with Washington, and Mitch McConnell is one of its best-known faces. The five-term senator is facing a primary challenge from Tea Party candidate Matt Bevin and, if he survives, an Election Day challenge from Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Major ad buys are already taking over the airwaves – eight months ahead of the primary.
•GEORGIA: Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss is retiring after two Senate terms, creating a wide open race for the Republican nomination. The leading candidates, Reps. Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun, are both staunch conservatives, and they have a history of controversial statements. They face a primary with perhaps a half-dozen other candidates. Meanwhile, non-profit chief Michelle Nunn – daughter of longtime former Georgia senator Sam Nunn – has a clear path to the Democratic nomination.
•SOUTH CAROLINA: Three Republicans have eyes on GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham’s seat, and still more candidates could emerge before the March deadline. The multiple entries could force Graham, who was elected to the Senate in 2002, into a runoff. The mercurial Graham is no Tea Party darling, but the movement has yet to unite around one of his challengers. Regardless of who wins this primary, the seat would likely remain in Republican control.
•NORTH CAROLINA: First-term Sen. Kay Hagan won the swing state in 2008, running on the same ticket as President Obama, who won the state. She also had the advantage in 2008 of running against Elizabeth Dole, a weak incumbent. In 2012, the Tar Heel State went for Mitt Romney, and Hagan has been taking lumps for supporting the health care law. On the Republican side, a primary battle is brewing between state House Speaker Thom Tillis and the Rev. Mark Harris.
•CALIFORNIA (31): Republican Gary Miller won re-election last year in this Inland Empire-San Bernardino County district that President Obama carried by 16 points. Four Democrats are seeking to oust Miller, whose land deals have been the source of some bad press. Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar and former representative Joe Baca are the Democrats to watch.
•ARIZONA (2): Democratic Rep. Ron Barber won a full term last year by less than 1 point in this Tucson-based district to succeed Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in January 2011. Republican Martha McSally, a retired Air Force colonel, has filed the paperwork for a rematch. Republican Mitt Romney carried the district by 2 points in the presidential election.
•UTAH (4): This race is shaping up as a rematch between incumbent Jim Matheson, the only Democrat in his state’s congressional delegation, and Republican Mia Love, mayor of Saratoga Springs. Matheson, a “Blue Dog,” defeated Love by 768 votes in 2012 in a district Romney won by 37 points.
•COLORADO (6): The southern Denver suburbs including Aurora are represented by conservative GOP Rep. Mike Coffman. He won a third term by 2 points, but Obama won the district with 52% of the vote. Democrats have high hopes for Andrew Romanoff, a former speaker of the Colorado House.
•ILLINOIS (13): Rep. Rodney Davis, a Republican, eked out a victory in Central Illinois last year by 1,002 votes. Next year, he faces a GOP primary challenge from Erika Harold, a former Miss America. Democrats are touting Ann Callis, a former Madison County chief judge, in one of America’s most closely divided districts.
•FLORIDA (13): The death this month of Rep. C.W. Bill Young, the longest-serving House Republican, pushed this district into the “tossup” category. Democrats would like to claim the district centered in the St. Petersburg-Clearwater area, which Obama won by about 5,000 votes.
•NORTH CAROLINA (7): Rep. Mike McIntyre belongs to the dwindling group of fiscally conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats. He won a ninth term representing this district in Wilmington and the southeastern part of the state by 654 votes last year. Romney carried the district by a healthy 19 points.