While Republicans are expected to expand their majority in the House due to a significantly higher number of Democrats facing competitive races and the Republican lean of the election cycle, there are always a few surprises on election night. Below are a few of the races that haven't topped most political radars, but are proving to be some of the most interesting contests in the country.
Rep. Mike Michaud's (D) open seat features one of the most interesting political dynamics in the country for the business community. Maine has a history of centrist consensus builders like Rep. Mike Michaud, former Sen. Olympia Snowe (R), Sen. Angus King (I), Sen. Susan Collins (R) and former Sen. Bill Cohen (R). The Democrat nominee, 35 year old State Senator Emily Cain, seems cut from a similar cloth and has a reputation of open-door, consensus building in the state legislature admired even by her political opponents. Her voting record however is reliably progressive and pro-labor. Bruce Poliquin, who beat an Olympia Snowe protégé in the primary with a tea-party oriented message on taxes and spending, is the Republican nominee who would likely be a reliable business vote. The district tilts slightly Democratic but as an open seat, it is very much a toss-up. The candidates involved leave the business community in a quandary: a Democrat who won't vote with you as frequently but can help build consensus to get things working better in Washington versus a more reliable vote.
Democrat incumbent John Garamendi is facing Republican State Senator Dan Logue. Garamendi is a reliable vote for home state colleague Nancy Pelosi (D) and scored just 4% on BIPAC's Outline for Prosperity vote guide. Logue meanwhile has a perfect record with both NFIB and the CalChamber but more interesting is Logue's approach to public service. A good government reformer and consensus builder at heart, Logue does things like assembling a bi-partisan team to hold meetings with CEOs who have taken their businesses out of California and asking what, specifically, it would take for them to return to the state. He has used his position to force local governments to be more transparent in contracting which saved millions of tax dollars and created an even playing field for all. Garamendi won in 2012 with less than 55% of the vote and Logue's Assembly district is almost wholly within the Congressional district. While it is a Democrat leaning seat, with an off-year electorate, an incumbent who is to the left of the voters and a reform oriented Republican with a record of bi-partisanship, CA-3 is a ripe opportunity for a surprise on election night.
Rep. Bruce Braley (D) will need a big turnout in his home district to win his Senate race in what is considered the most heavily Democratic district in the state at D+5 and having voted for Pres. Obama with 56% of the vote in 2012. Dynamics on the ground however are making this one of the most interesting races in the country to watch. Democrat Speaker of the House Pat Murphy has a long, very adversarial relationship with the business community in Iowa and beat two other much more centrist Democrats to win the nomination. First time candidate Republican Rod Blum conversely was named Entrepreneur of the Year in Iowa for growing his software company from 5 employees to 325. In this rural district, NFIB and the NRA are brand names that Democrats have always worked hard to court and both have endorsed Blum this year. An early September poll showed a two point race - closer than the open 3rd district seat which had been considered to be much more competitive. Blum has surprised many with his adept campaign ability and slow and steady work to win over voters. With Murphy so far to the left of the district and a popular Governor Branstad (R) driving turnout at the top of the ticket, Iowa's first district could be at the top of the list of races with a surprising result.
In the race to fill the open seat of Rep. Tim Griffin (R), the business community quickly rallied around Republican banker French Hill and Democrats chose North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Henry Hays (who has one of the best candidate names of the cycle). On the surface, it seemed a safe bet to hold the seat for Republicans, but it has become one of the sleeper races the Democrats hope to pick off. It is Arkansas' most Democratic district and voted for Obama by 8 points more than any other Congressional District in the state. Senator Mark Pryor will be pushing a big Democratic turnout in Hays' Little Rock backyard if he is going to have a chance at reelection and Hays has focused like a laser on job creation, running some of the most effective TV ads of the cycle. Observers in the state still give an edge to Hill, but Hays has proven to be a much more formidable candidate than anticipated and Hill's patrician demeanor in the most Democratic leaning district in the state COULD result in a surprise Democratic pickup in the deep south.
You would think a Republican in a district carried by Barack Obama who was caught on camera threatening to kill a news reporter and being under FBI indictment would pretty much end his chances at reelection. If so, you aren't familiar with the political dynamics on Staten Island and Rep. Michael Grimm. Staten Island has always felt itself different and separate from New York, even voting to secede as recently as 1993. They are the picked on little brother who gets little but scorn from the rest of the cosmopolitan world capital. Michael Grimm is one of them. On a visceral level, he understands and relates to them - and vice versa. The district also has a couple of precincts in Brooklyn, which may as well be in Connecticut for the impact they have on the thinking of the district. It is from one of these precincts that Democrat Councilman Domenic Recchia hails. Staten Island has the highest percentage of Italian ancestry in the country according to the Almanac of American Politics. Grimm and Recchia both have Italian heritage, but Grimm's Staten Island roots and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's (D) unpopularity in the district may show that Grimm, despite the politics of the district, despite federal indictments, despite threats to reporters, has a real chance to hold his seat. If he does, it will be one of the most remarkable results of the election.