7 reasons to care about this year's House races

The dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen on Capitol Hill August 28, 2012 in Washington, DC. It has been reported that the dome has 1,300 known cracks and breaks leaking water to the interior of the Rotunda and needs restorations. The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved $61 million before the August recess to repair the structure. On Monday, Committee on Rules and Administration chairman Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) called on Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) to support the repairs. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

It's easy to just dismiss the race for the House of Representatives this election. Republicans have a large majority in the House today with 242 seats while Democrats hold 193. Democrats would need to win a net of 25 seats to take the chamber and respected campaign handicappers like Charlie Cook and Stuart Rothenberg agree that it will be tough for Democrats to even break out of the single digits. In fact, the National Journal recently pronounced the Democrats' efforts to reach 25 "dead."

So election night could very likely come and go without much news on the House side. Same GOP-controlled House. Same likely leaders like Speaker of the House John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor. If President Obama wins, which is an if, it would almost assuredly mean the same fights over raising the debt ceiling and the role of government in people's lives.

But take a closer look and there are numerous races and stories worthy of coverage even if there is little doubt about the final outcome. From Tea Party stars whose short political careers are at risk to the mystery surrounding Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's plans for her political future, here are seven reasons to care about the House:

Nancy Pelosi's future

House moderates had questions about whether former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the first female House Speaker, should stay on as the top Democrat after the party lost 63 seats in 2010. But Pelosi quickly fought back arguing that she had led Democrats to victory in 2006 and could do it again.

Pelosi prevailed in the 2010 leadership elections and won the post of House Minority Leader, despite a challenge from moderate Democrat Heath Shuler.

But victory is not the outcome Democrats expect on Tuesday. So come Wednesday, all eyes will be on Pelosi as she decides whether she wants to fight another round.

If Pelosi does decide to compete for the top leadership post again, she can certainly make the case that she's worked hard to bring Democrats back to power. Especially by raising money for Democratic candidates.

According to a Pelosi aide, she has held 692 events raising more than $85 million for Democrats this election cycle. She's raised $328 million for Democrats since joining the leadership ranks in 2002.

Pelosi has not shared her plans for the future with anyone who's made them public, but some have speculated that by pushing leadership elections to the end of this month, Pelosi is building in enough time for a successor to launch a campaign for the top leadership post.

Tea party stars are at risk

While Republicans who ran with Tea Party backing in 2010 have largely become part of the establishment, and most will safely win reelection, some of the Tea Party's true stars are in competitive races.

Take Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., who is on the GOP's most vulnerable list this election cycle. The former Army Lieutenant Colonel is known for his straight talk against deficit spending, but also as one of the Democrats' most outspoken critics. He accused about 80 House Democrats of being Marxists. West even made some members of his own party cringe when he sent Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., an email calling her "vile" and "not a lady" after she had criticized him on the House Floor.

West is facing Democrat Patrick Murphy, a CPA who is trying to paint the Tea Party Republican as too extreme and combative. Murphy is promising that he would work effectively with members across the aisle. If West is able to hang on in this election, it will largely be because of a tough ad he's running that shows Murphy's 2003 mug shot after a bar fight that happened around the same time West was preparing to get ready to deploy to Iraq.

In Illinois, Tea Party freshman Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., is widely expected to lose re-election against Iraq veteran Tammy Duckworth who lost both her legs when her helicopter was shot down in combat. Walsh won this moderate district in 2010 by fewer than 1,000 votes and it's even more Democratic-leaning after redistricting. But Walsh stayed true to his conservative views, rather than moderating to win re-election, voting for both GOP budgets that would cut social programs and overhaul Medicare and against the compromise bill to raise the debt ceiling saying corresponding spending cuts weren't "dramatic" enough. Walsh criticized Duckworth in this race saying she talked too much about her military service and is "not a real hero."

Even House Tea Party Caucus founder, Minnesota GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann has been forced to fight for her political survival. The one-time presidential contender is in the most competitive race of her career against hotel businessman Jim Graves. While she is expected to survive, largely due to having raised over $20 million with over $3 million left to spend in the final sprint, expect her to remain a top target for the Democrats given her clear vulnerability in this district.

Redistricting and the battle of the incumbents

Every 10 years after the U.S. Census is taken, congressional districts are redrawn to reflect shifts in population to make sure that every member represents the same number of people. In states like Arizona and Texas, where the population is increasing, their congressional delegations expand. But in states like Louisiana and Ohio, where the trend is the opposite and residents are leaving, they lose seats in Congress. CBS News has found that redistricting in the states has largely come out a wash for the two political parties with Republicans getting a slight edge.

One consequence of redistricting is that it sets off a game of musical chairs among House incumbents fighting for their jobs. Sixteen incumbents faced off in primaries this year and 10 will compete against each other tomorrow night.

There's Iowa's third congressional district where Republican incumbent Rep. Tom Latham, an ally of Speaker John Boehner's, is running against Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell. The two are largely in a battle over who would be more of a rubber stamp for the two presidential contenders. And in Louisiana's third congressional district, incumbent Republican Rep. Charles Boustany is facing off in an election night primary against Tea Party incumbent Rep. Jeff Landry.

The incumbent versus incumbent race getting the most attention is In California, where an outside commission merged two districts in southern California into a new 30th district. The state also now advances the top two vote-getters from primaries to the general. Fifteen-term Democratic Rep. Howard Berman is facing off against eight-term Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman. Shorthand for watchers of this race is just "Berman-Sherman." Voters will be choosing between two Democrats who are both incumbents, both Jewish, who are both committed supporters of Israel and serve on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Not necessarily an easy choice for a voter trying to look at the differences between the two candidates. This race has become so heated that a sheriff's deputy actually had to step between the two men at a recent debate when it looked like the two candidates might get physical.

  • Jill Jackson On Twitter»

    Jill Jackson is a CBS News senior political producer.

Comments