Out of 435 House races, here are seven toss-ups to watch

Democratic Rep. Scott Peters of San Diego is vying for reelection in one of the few toss-up congressional races in the country.
(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

Come November, all 435 seats in the House of Representatives will be up for grabs, at least theoretically, in the way that every American boy or girl could someday grow up to be president, an astronaut or whatever else their dreams might suggest.

In truth, just as little Timmy or Marcy will likely as not remain earthbound, and not in the Oval Office, the truth is most House seats are beyond the reach of all but the incumbents seeking reelection or, in certain cases, the party already in power.

As noted earlier, for all the disgust with Congress and its members, collectively and individually, about 9 in 10 of those seeking reelection will be back in their current House seats come the swearing-in next January.

Gerrymandering and partisan vehemence combine to almost certainly make this a keep-the-bums-in-election year, and make it difficult -- if not impossible -- for Democrats to net the 17-seat gain they would need to win control of the House.


Still, there are scores of races that are not entirely devoid of competition; more than half of those, if not exactly barn-burners, could strike a few sparks and maybe even result in a partisan switch here or there.

However, when it comes to genuine flip-a-coin, shrug-your-shoulders, who-knows-what-could-happen congressional contests, there are but seven, according to the election wizards at the Cook and Rothenberg Political reports.

The nonpartisan analysts and their crew of election experts, who have decades of handicapping experience among them, operate independently and have their own ratings systems.

Cook and company rank 30 races as likely or leaning Democratic and another 35 as likely or leaning Republican. Eleven Democratic and three Republican House seats are rated pure toss-ups.

Rothenberg and associates rank 22 competitive seats with some degree of Democratic lean and 22 with a Republican edge. Rothenberg rated as tossups seven seats that overlap with Cook’s analysis, making them, by consensus, the most competitive in the country. They are:

Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District: Democratic Rep. Ron Barber won the Tucson-area seat of his old boss, Gabrielle Giffords, in a May 2012 special election and eked out reelection just about six months later in a year when President Obama helped drive turnout from atop the ticket. Lacking that advantage this time, Barber now faces a rematch with former Air Force officer Martha McSally, a Republican and the first female fighter pilot to fly a combat mission.

California’s 52nd Congressional District: Former San Diego City Councilman Scott Peters edged GOP Rep. Brian Bilbray in 2012 in another close race. This time his leading challenger is former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, who lost the 2012 San Diego mayor’s race but carried the precincts within the congressional district. As this article notes, registration is about as closely divided as it gets: 34% Republican, 32% Democrat and 29% independent.

Colorado’s 6th Congressional District: Reapportionment pushed Republican Rep. Mike Coffman into new, far more moderate political territory than he used to represent. He barely beat a weak opponent in 2012 and now races a far more formidable rival, former Democratic Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, in this suburban Denver contest. The district includes Aurora, site of a mass shooting in July 2012, and gun control advocates have sought to press the issue against Coffman, who used to boast of his A+ NRA rating.

Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District: Republican Rep. Tom Latham is stepping down after serving 10 terms. President Obama carried the district in the southwestern portion of the state, but not by a lot. The rare open seat has drawn a crowded field on the Republican side, including Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz. The likely Democratic nominee is former state Sen. Staci Appel, whose husband sits on the state Supreme Court.

New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District: The retirement of Republican Rep. Jon Runyan, who plans to step down after just two terms representing the state’s midsection, gives Democrats another pickup opportunity in a district President Obama carried in 2012, but barely. Runyan is endorsing wealthy businessman and former Randolph Mayor Tom MacArthur in his competitive primary against tea party conservative Steve Lonegan, who lost to Democrat Cory Booker in last year’s Senate special election. The likely Democratic nominee is Aimee Belgard, an attorney and Burlington County Freeholder.

New York’s 21st Congressional District: Here a Democratic retirement gives Republicans a strong pickup opportunity in upstate New York. Bill Owens is also leaving Congress after just two terms. A pair of Republicans are strongly vying for the nomination. Elise Stefanik is a veteran of the George W. Bush White House and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s unsuccessful 2012 presidential campaign. She faces investment banker Matt Doheny, who twice ran unsuccessfully against Owens. The likely Democratic nominee is Aaron Woolf, a filmmaker and operator of a New York City organic grocery and café, who has a home in the district but has lived mainly in Brooklyn.

West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District: Democrat Nick Joe Rahall was first elected in 1976, but life has gotten harder as West Virginia turned from a Democratic stronghold into a place where Obama received a mere 36% support in a 2012 shellacking. (Worse, a Texas prison inmate received more than 40% of the Democratic primary vote against the president.) Republicans, with the help of free-spending outside groups, are convinced this is the year they can finally knock Rahall off. Their candidate in this south West Virginia district is three-term state Sen. Evan Jenkins, who switched parties to make the congressional race. Either way, Rahall is likely to race the political fight of his life.