DLCC 2012 Essential Races

by Michael Adam Childers

Distributed among the recipients below

The DLCC is the organization on the side of the Democratic party that focuses on helping Democrats win seats in state legislatures across the country. (Most text below directly from their website. I am not affiliated with them.)

Fifty races were chosen by the DLCC, and ten others were set aside to be chosen through a grassroots nomination process. Three races, however, belong in both categories - they were among those chosen by DLCC strategists, but they also received so many nominations that they would have also been added to the grassroots list on their own.

Not all candidates have ActBlue pages. View the full list at the DLCC website.

Image of Corey Harris

Corey Harris


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: Legislative District 18 is a crucial swing district for the Arizona House, and Democrat Corey Harris, as an Iraq War veteran and community advocate for military families, has the necessary profile to mount a competitive race for one of the two House seats in this district. Both GOP incumbents in this district have also earned their fair share of controversy in recent years, related to their respective legislation to intentionally stigmatize food stamp recipients and charge a mandatory $2,000 fee on low-income college students.

David Kizzia


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: House District 26 captures many of the statewide features of the battle for the Arkansas legislature. The district, like the state, is trending away from Democrats at the national level. And like they are across the state, Democrats are hoping the personal qualities and tough campaigning of their nominee, attorney and theological seminary graduate David Kizzia, are enough to make voters split their ticket. This race is also symbolic because of the controversies surrounding incumbent Republican Loy Mauch, such as past statements depicting public education as a Marxist plot and his involvement in a hate group identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Linda Tyler


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: This race is another test of the personality vs. political trends question that occurs frequently in Arkansas legislative races this year. Democratic state Rep. Linda Tyler is already well known in the city of Conway, which should provide her with a potent support base in Senate District 35’s population anchor, and her experience as a small business owner has made her a popular figure among her local Chamber of Commerce. That said, defeating an incumbent Republican will be a challenge in this district, which is why a win by Tyler might indicate that Democrats have retained their narrow majority in the Arkansas Senate.

Daniel Kagan


Status: Democratic Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: Early this year, Democrat Daniel Kagan’s re-election race was #1 on The Colorado Observer’s list of the top ten races to watch in the Colorado Legislature – and with good reason. Rep. Kagan’s safely Democratic district was transformed into a tossup district by a bipartisan panel’s redistricting plan, and Colorado Republicans have fielded a well-financed challenger. And because the new district performed so close to the statewide average in 2010 races, it will be a great indicator of Democrats’ ability to re-take the majority in this chamber.

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Tony Exum


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: When Democrat and former 35-year veteran firefighter Tony Exum launched his campaign for House District 17, he had no idea that his community of Colorado Springs would be threatened by devastating wildfires just ten weeks later. But that unhappy coincidence is part of what makes this a race to watch: it’s a Republican-leaning district in the GOP’s traditional stronghold region, and the GOP incumbent is being challenged by perhaps Colorado House Democrats’ most formidable recruit.

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Max Tyler


Status: Democratic Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: Democratic state Rep. Max Tyler was appointed to this seat in 2009, and his first re-election race in 2010 was a DLCC Essential Races choice that year as well. This year, District 23 is a grassroots selection, likely a reflection of Rep. Tyler’s progressive stances on issues like the civil unions bill that House Republicans recently scuttled, as well as the fact that Tyler is facing an extremely well-funded challenger who could make this race interesting. Nevertheless, this district leans Democratic and should remain in Democratic hands in a presidential election year. A loss by Tyler won’t put a House majority out of reach for Democrats, but it would suggest the road to that majority is tougher than many initially thought.

Linda Newell


Status: Democratic Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: Democrat Linda Newell’s race for state Senate in 2008 was also a grassroots Essential Races pick, and it lived up to its billing – Newell won by fewer than 200 votes out of more than 60,000 cast. This year’s race is shaping up to be equally close, with now-Senator Newell facing a well-financed GOP opponent in this suburban swing district that became just a point or two more Democratic during redistricting. It’s clear that any Republican road to a Colorado Senate majority runs through districts like this one, where they’ll need to defeat Democratic incumbents with moderate profiles like Newell’s, and that makes Senate District 26 a top bellwether race.

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Crestina Martinez


Status: Open Seat (redistricting)

Why this Race Matters: This brand-new district in ancestrally-Democratic southern Colorado is widely considered to have been moved here from metro Denver, but neither party can realistically claim to be “defending” it. However, Democrat Crestina Martinez may have the upper hand in this race thanks to her work on environmental and water-management issues – always top concerns among rural Colorado’s ranching communities. This race will also help reveal whether 2010’s “rural revolt” has receded this year, allowing Democrats to once again run competitively in areas like this.

Karen Castor Dentel


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: This Orlando-based district is one example of the havoc wrought by a recent ballot measure meant to outlaw political gerrymandering: a GOP incumbent’s safely-gerrymandered district has been transformed into a true tossup. If teacher and working mother Karen Castor Dentel can capture this seat for the Democrats, it may suggest a level of volatility in other districts that owe their competitiveness to the new redistricting rules.

Frank T. Bruno, Jr.


Status: Republican Open Seat

Why this Race Matters: Senate District 8 may be the most competitive race in the chamber this year. On paper, it’s been described as a “50-50” district, and the extraordinarily expensive campaign so far reflects that. Democrat and Volusia County Council Chairman Frank Bruno has out-raised his GOP opponent in recent weeks, but Florida Republicans recently jumped in with a mammoth $2 million ad buy. This is also one of the only state legislative races in the country where public polling is available –showing a 1-point lead for Bruno.

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Justin Moed


Status: Democratic Open Seat

Why this Race Matters: Indiana House Democrats hope to start working their way back to the majority this year, but in order to do that, they first have to defend the territory they already hold. One of the most important of those races is House District 97, an area that was fiercely fought over in both 2008 and 2010, where Democrat Justin Moed has been running a spirited campaign to retain this open seat. Moed brings a wealth of campaign and legislative experience to the race through his previous work with House Democrats, and while a win by Moed won’t mean Democrats are out of the woods, it will suggest that the path back to the majority can now begin.

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Tim DeLaney


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: Democrats held proportionally fewer seats in the Indiana Senate than they did in the House during redistricting, which complicated GOP efforts to draw a map that protected all their incumbents. Democrat and local attorney Tim DeLaney was one beneficiary in his race for Senate District 30 in Indianapolis, one of several seats Democrats could pick up this year. A win by DeLaney would suggest that Democrats are tightening their grip on metro Indianapolis’ legislative districts.

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Mary Jo Wilhelm


Status: Incumbent Pairing (redistricting)

Why this Race Matters: Redistricting placed Democrat Mary Jo Wilhelm into a tossup district with a Republican fellow incumbent, and the resulting matchup could decide which party holds the majority in the Iowa Senate. As a first-term legislator, Wilhelm was initially considered the underdog, but her GOP opponent’s long-running (and embarrassingly public) fence-related dispute with his neighbors may have contributed to this district’s tossup status.

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Chris Brase


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: Democrat and longtime firefighter Chris Brase began this race with a name-recognition deficit against GOP incumbent Shawn Hamerlinck in this tossup district. But among younger voters, that may not be a good thing for the incumbent, who made national news by telling a group of Iowa student-government leaders to just “go back home” instead of speaking out about education funding (the subject they’d come to Des Moines to testify about). Another true tossup race, Senate District 46 could determine the majority in this chamber.

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Rita Hart


Status: Open Seat (redistricting)

Why this Race Matters: Because it's an odd-numbered district, Senate District 49 wasn't supposed to be on the ballot this year. But because no incumbent lived here following redistricting, this district features a competitive 2012 race between teacher and family farmer Rita Hart and a 2010 GOP nominee who fell just a few votes short in a state Senate race that year. As an open seat in a district that leans ever-so-slightly Democratic, Democrats probably need to win here to retain their 26-24 majority.

Jean-Marie Caterina


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: In the closely-divided Maine House, Democrats need just four more seats (out of 151) for a majority, and numerous GOP freshmen are defending Democratic-leaning districts like this one following the 2010 wave. House District 127 could also be a test of just how much “buyer’s remorse” will affect the overall landscape, because the incumbent Republican is the only Maine legislator on the League of Conservation Voters’ “Dirty Dozen” list. If Democrat Jean-Marie Caterina wins here, there are at least a dozen GOP incumbents in similarly-Democratic districts who could also be in trouble.

Joe Wagner


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: This is a re-match of a 2010 race that was decided by just 120 votes. That alone qualifies House District 139 as a race to watch for hints of whether Democrats will regain their state House majority. But Democrat Joe Wagner isn’t just a former legislator; he’s also been a social studies teacher for nearly 30 years and before that a financial manager for the Head Start program, making this a race to watch for whether the Democratic message of supporting education is gaining traction.

Colleen Quint


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: The issue driving many Maine state Senate races is incumbent Republicans’ tendency to rubber-stamp the deeply unpopular agenda of GOP Governor Paul LePage. Education cuts have topped that agenda, and as a former Minot School Committee Chairperson and the Executive Director of a prominent statewide scholarship program, Democrat Colleen Quint has the profile to make education a top issue. She can also point to past experience in the Attorney General’s office, where she helped recover almost $200,000 stolen from seniors in a telemarketing scam.

Colleen Lachowicz


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: This race received the second-most grassroots nominations of any in the country. As a trained social worker and the director of a school-based counseling program in Kennebec County, Democrat Colleen Lachowicz would probably agree that everyone needs some kind of outlet for the frustrations of everyday life. Hers is World of Warcraft, a popular online fantasy game, and it’s so far earned her a GOP-sponsored attack website, mailers to most of the voters in her district, and a wall-to-wall GOP media blitz – all focused entirely on attacking Lachowicz for being a gamer. It remains to be seen whether their strategy will be effective, but one thing’s for sure: Republicans have succeeded in making Senate District 25 perhaps the most nationally-watched legislative race in the country right now.

Geoffrey Gratwick


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: As a three-term Bangor City Councilperson, Democrat Geoff Gratwick is poised for a very competitive race against an incumbent Republican in the Bangor-based Senate District 32. It’s also a key race for Democratic hopes of regaining their state Senate majority lost in 2010: Democrats need just three pickups to establish an unambiguous majority in the chamber, so this could be the deciding race.

Zach Dorholt


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: St. Cloud, Minnesota is a Democratic-leaning city, but it elected a Republican state Representative in 2010. Regaining such districts is the first key to Democratic hopes of regaining their House majority, so this race will be one to watch. Democratic nominee Zach Dorholt also brings an interesting personal story to the race; he works at a non-profit mental health center, helping those living with mental illness gain independent living and employment skills.

Rick Olseen


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: Former state Senator Rick Olseen will have little trouble building name recognition in his old stomping grounds of Chisago County, where he won his first race for public office in 1990 and where he’s running this year to unseat a incumbent Republican Representative in HD-32B. This is an area of the state that has trended away from Democrats in recent elections, but Olseen’s campaign experience and history in this area will make this a competitive race.

Kevin L. Dahle


Status: Republican Open Seat

Why this Race Matters: Kevin Dahle was among many popular local Democrats swept from their conservative-leaning districts in 2010, which makes his race to reclaim a Senate seat in this area a good test case for similar races across the country featuring former Democratic legislators. In addition, because Senate District 20 is anchored by far exurban neighborhoods near the Twin Cities, it may also be a great indicator of Democratic fortunes throughout the politically vital “collar” counties of Minnesota.

Melisa Franzen


Status: Republican Open Seat

Why this Race Matters: For this open seat, Republicans nominated a sitting state Representative from the more conservative half of this district, which created an opening for Democratic attorney Melisa Franzen against a GOP nominee who may be out of step with this district ideologically. Franzen herself, who grew up in Puerto Rico, is running an energetic campaign with a heavy grassroots focus.

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Scott Sifton


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: Republicans won Senate District 1, based in St. Louis County, by just 70 votes in 2008, making it a top target for Democrats hoping to increase their numbers in the Missouri Senate. And Democratic nominee Scott Sifton is strongly positioned to do so. Sifton already represents St. Louis County in the state House, where he survived the 2010 wave and should be competitive this year, especially with President Obama likely toboost Democratic turnout from the top of the ticket.

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Tom Jacobson


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: For nearly a decade, Democrat Tom Jacobson was the Executive Director of Rural Dynamics, Inc., an organization promoting the “economic security of Montana’s working class.” That experience dovetails nicely with the top issue in this election - the economy - and it gives Jacobson a great chance to return this Democratic-leaning Great Falls district to the blue column. Montana Democrats need to be successful in districts like this one if they hope to win back their state House majority.

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Franke Wilmer


Status: Incumbent Pairing (redistricting)

Why this Race Matters: Democrat Franke Wilmer brings tremendous experience to this race after serving as House Speaker pro tempore and finishing second in this year’s primary for Congress. But because of that race, Wilmer got a late start to her campaign against Republican fellow incumbent Tom Burnett. Burnett engendered controversy for his “report,” Hunger in America: The Myth, which calls for an end to food assistance programs and offers such advice to needy parents as “No whining,” “Gather wild berries,” and in a moment of unintended irony, “Expect occasional hunger.”

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Nancy Lindsey


Status: Republican Open Seat

Why this Race Matters: Senate District 6 became an open seat when the moderate Republican incumbent was defeated by Tea Party-linked primary challenger Janna Taylor. Montana Democrats need just three pickups to tie the state Senate, and as an open seat in a tossup district with an extreme Republican nominee like Taylor, Senate District 6 could very well be the race that ends the GOP majority. Democrat Nancy Lindsey, who co-founded a successful software company, will likely make job creation a top issue in this campaign.

Justin Jones

Status: Republican Open Seat

Why this Race Matters: Technically a special election, Senate District 9 was made far more Democratic during redistricting, but it wasn’t supposed to be on the ballot this year until incumbent GOP Senator Elizabeth Halseth resigned. Now Republicans are forced to defend this Democratic-leaning territory against local Democratic attorney Justin Jones, who volunteers his time representing child victims of domestic abuse. Statewide, Republicans nearly have to run the table to regain the majority they lost in 2008, and a GOP win in this district would strongly suggest that they have pulled it off.

Sheila Leslie


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: Sheila Leslie has attained something close to hero status among Democratic election-watchers as a progressive-leaning legislator running against an appointed Republican incumbent in a tossup district. Leslie had already served for more than a decade in the Nevada Assembly and Senate and is well-known in Senate District 15, and her presence in this race makes it a tossup Republicans simply can’t afford to lose. This race is expected to go down to the wire, and a loss here would significantly complicate Republican efforts to regain their majority.

Jennifer Daler


Status: Democratic Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: The New Hampshire House is one of a handful of chambers where redistricting thoroughly scrambled the statewide outlook: though the number of seats remains the same at 400, the number of districts expanded from 103 last cycle to 204 today, and Democratic Rep. Jennifer Daler’s 25th Hillsborough district is by some estimation the fourth-most Republican in the state. Put simply, if Rep. Daler can hold on here, it’s a very bad sign for Republicans statewide. It would also be the second time this cycle that Rep. Daler’s race has been looked to as a bellwether: she previously won a crushing special election in the home district of GOP Speaker Bill O’Brien.

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Aaron Gill


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: Unlike the New Hampshire House’s many multi-member House races, Hillsborough District 39 is a one-on-one matchup featuring Democratic community banker and Deering Conservation Commission officer Aaron Gill, who faces an incumbent Republican who moved to the state as part of the so-called Free State Project, which encourages Libertarians to move to New Hampshire in order to remake that state’s government in the image of Libertarian Party ideology. (The project targets New Hampshire, specifically, because of its relatively small electorate.) The outcome of this race could show whether conservative-leaning districts like this one are “in play” for New Hampshire Democrats, as well as whether the Free State Project’s unique brand of conservatism has staying power among normal New Hampshire voters.

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Marie Corfield


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: This race received more grassroots nominations than any other in the country. Teacher and progressive education advocate Marie Corfield became a YouTube sensation in 2010 when her vigorous defense of public schools at a town hall meeting provoked an angry response from GOP Governor Chris Christie and an even angrier stream of abusive emails and Facebook postings attacking Corfield. In part because of that unpleasant incident, Corfield ran for state Assembly in 2011, falling just short of victory in a two-member district. Two days after that election, one of the winning Republicans passed away, triggering the appointment of an interim GOP incumbent who will face Corfield in a special election this year. This is the most competitive of only three New Jersey legislative races this year, so the spotlight is clearly on this race as a predictor of Democratic chances in 2013.

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Emily Kane


Status: Democratic Open Seat

Why this Race Matters: House District 15 is among a handful of likely bellwethers for Republican prospects of taking the majority in the New Mexico House: the district is competitive on paper, and as an open seat it makes a more inviting target than other marginal districts with Democratic incumbents. If Democratic firefighter Emily Kane successfully holds this district, the Republican path to a majority becomes much tougher.

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Joanne Ferrary


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: In a sign of how close this eastern Las Cruces race could be, both Democrat Joanne Farrary and her GOP opponent won exactly 1007 votes in this year’s primaries. But close races are nothing new in House District 37, one of several seats that fell just narrowly to Republicans in the 2010 wave. When redistricting left the previous Democratic Representative in another district, Democrats turned to anti-drunk-driving advocate Ferrary to carry their banner, and a Ferrary victory would indicate significant Democratic gains among other districts that fell in 2010 – likely putting the majority out of reach for Republicans.

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Stephanie Garcia Richard


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: Republicans are running a well-financed campaign to capture the New Mexico House this cycle after coming up short in 2010, but if Democratic teacher and former legislative analyst Stephanie Garcia Richard can successfully defeat the GOP incumbent in House District 43, then it’s probably safe to say that Democrats are the ones who will pick up seats this year. That said, this race is not your typical incumbent challenge; Garcia Richard’s opponent was appointed to the seat when its previous occupant passed away, making him an unfamiliar figure for most voters.

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Cecilia Tkaczyk


Status: Open Seat (redistricting)

Why this Race Matters: New York Republicans expanded the state Senate to 63 seats specifically in a bid to save the GOP’s narrow state Senate majority, and most analysts consider the “new” district to be the open 46th, which was tailor-made for GOP Assemblyman George Amedore. If the new district goes to Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk instead, then adding that seat in the first place could go down in history as one of the most colossal gerrymandering miscalculations in recent memory. Needless to say, a Tkaczyk win would leave the Republican majority on thin ice, at best.

Connie Pillich


Status: Democratic Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: State Rep. Connie Pillich’s 2010 race was also named to our Essential Races list that year, and with good reason. Representing a Cincinnati-based district, Pillich was heavily targeted, but she survived in one of the closest legislative races in the country. This year, Republicans targeted Pillich twice: first by heavily gerrymandering her district, and now through heavy spending to support her Tea Party opponent. So if Rep. Pillich survives a second time, that will indicate a good night overall for Ohio House Democrats.

Chris Gorsek


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: Oregon House Republicans were recently rocked by one of the strangest scandals this cycle, which led to one of the more unfortunate political headlines in recent memory: “Night in topless bar becomes embarrassment for Oregon GOP legislators.” Matt Wand, the GOP incumbent in House District 49, was there, and Democrat Chris Gorsek may be the beneficiary in this suburban Portland swing district. A teacher and former police officer, Gorsek is running in one of several Democratic leaning districts won by Republicans in 2010, any one of which could break the chamber’s 30-30 tie if won by Democrats.

Shemia Fagan


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: House District 51 is one of several Democratic-leaning districts won by Republicans in 2010, and the loss of any one of them will restore the Democratic majority in the Oregon House. But there’s more at play here than just a reversal of the 2010 republican tide: redistricting added a slice of suburban southeastern Portland, which should favor Democrat and local school board member Shemia Fagan.

Arnie Roblan


Status: Democratic Open Seat

Why this Race Matters: Oregon Democrats hold a narrow 16-14 majority in the state Senate, but most analysts agree that the chamber’s most competitive districts are almost exclusively up for election in mid-term years (Senators serve staggered, 4-year terms). Senate District 5 is an exception, a competitive but Democratic-leaning open seat where Democrats fielded their strongest possible nominee: House Co-Speaker Arnie Roblan. If Roblan can lock down District 5, then Republican hopes of winning the majority pretty much disappear.

Ryan Bizzarro


Status: Democratic Open Seat

Why this Race Matters: House District 3 has already been noted by PoliticsPA as one of the ten most interesting races in the 203-member Pennsylvania House this year. Democratic candidate Ryan Bizzarro brings a lot of “fight” to the race as the grandson of legendary local boxing contender Lou Bizzarro, and he’s well-known in this Erie-based district through experience with the Erie County Industrial Development Board and past work for the local District Attorney and Crime Victim Center. Defending open seats is always a party’s first step toward regaining a majority, and that makes this race one to watch.

Bret Binder


Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: This suburban swing seat perfectly demonstrates the difference two years can make in southeastern Pennsylvania. After Democrats first picked up this seat by just 28 votes in 2006, Presidential-year turnout (particularly at West Chester University) produced a relatively comfortable 7-point win in 2008, but then Republicans regained this district by less than 1% in 2010. 2012 is another presidential election year, and Democratic attorney and small business owner Bret Binder is hoping to reclaim this seat from a freshman Republican who co-sponsored Pennsylvania’s version of the infamous mandatory ultrasound probe bills that swept across other Republican-controlled legislatures.

Mary Margaret Haugen


Status: Democratic Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: Longtime Senate Transportation Committee Chair Mary Margaret Haugen represents one of the most conservative-leaning districts held by a Democrat. Her moderate record and the influence she wields on transportation and other top issues in her district have allowed her to survive past challenges, but Senate District 10 was expected to be close again this year. Despite that, in January 2012, Haugen became the 25th Senator to publicly endorse a bill allowing same-sex marriage – effectively making hers the deciding vote in the 49-member chamber. That vote simply expanded the GOP target on this district, making this a symbolically important race as well as one that could determine the majority.

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Susan Sommer


Status: Democratic Open Seat

Why this Race Matters: Wisconsin Democrats are hoping it’s “Sommer time” in Senate District 12, which was left open by retiring Democrat Jim Holperin. This conservative-leaning district was heavily targeted in the 2011 recalls, although Holperin won his race by a wider than expected margin. That margin is what gives Democrat and 17-year former prosecutor Susan Sommer a realistic chance of holding this district as an open seat.

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Jessica King


Status: Democratic Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: Democratic Senator Jessica King won this seat by a razor-thin margin in the Wisconsin recalls last year, but before the votes in that race were even cast, she was already a target of a Republican gerrymandering scheme that made District 18 significantly more conservative. One factor making this a race to watch is the issue of “recall fatigue:” it’s generally been assumed that Democratic challengers’ performance in the recalls suffered from a small (but significant) block of otherwise Democratic-leaning voters who voted Republican because they oppose recalls in general. The return of those voters could save Senator King and the 1-seat Democratic majority.

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