Eight House races to watch

AP

(CBS News) Just because it's a presidential election year, and most of the focus is on President Obama and Mitt Romney, doesn't mean there aren't a slew of other important races all across the country. Case in point: there are 435 races for the U.S. House, in every congressional district across the country that will determine whether Republicans will maintain control of the House. Democrats must pick up a net gain of 25 seats to take back control from Republicans, which many political observers say is a possibility, but definitely very challenging.

CBSNews.com has highlighted 8 races - four incumbent Republicans and four incumbent Democrats - that could be key to who controls the House for the next two years.

CA-52: Republican Rep. Brian Bilbray v. Scott Peters

Rep. Brian Bilbray and Scott Peters

The district's boundaries have been redrawn to include the San Diego suburbs and downtown San Diego and, in turn, making the district more Democratic. For incumbent Rep. Brian Bilbray, a Republican who has held his congressional seat in the 50th district since 2006, and was also a member of Congress between 1995 and 2001, the district is more of a challenge for him with the new borders and with a change of demographics, including an influx of Hispanics, who tend to vote Democratic.

"Bilbray's problem is the remap," said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "Democrats probably have the advantage."

"The only advantage we have is we have an incumbent with a strong name ID," said Paul Lindsey, communications director for the National Republican Communication Committee, the party organization that helps House Republican campaigns.

In an election where turnout is expected to dictate this race, it is one of the must-win seats for Democrats if they want to take back the House of Representatives. Both parties understand that, as both House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and House Speaker John Boehner have visited the district to raise money for their respective candidates.

Bilbray's challenger is Scott Peters, a former San Diego city council member and current Port Commissioner. Republicans are attempting to frame Peters as a scandal-plagued politician, tying him to a six-year-old public pension scandal.

Democrats, meanwhile, say Bilbray is a career politician who profited from a stint as a lobbyist.

CO-6 R: Republican Rep. Mike Coffman v. Joe Miklosi

Rep. Mike Coffman v. Joe Miklosi

Rep. Mike Coffman is the incumbent facing state representative Joe Miklosi in the suburban district that stretches from Denver to Aurora, Colo. The newly remapped district includes a larger percentage of Democrats - 54 percent of the new district backed President Obama in 2008. Coffman was first elected to Congress in 2008 and has not faced a serious challenger until this year. His Tea Party principles may not appeal, however, to his new Democratic constituents.

Coffman questioned President Obama's citizenship during a campaign stop in May. "I don't know whether Barack Obama was born in the United States of America. I don't know that," he said. "But I do know this, that in his heart, he's not an American. He's just not an American."

Democrats are trying Coffman to what they deem an extreme Republican Congress and, specifically, Missouri Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin whose comments about "legitimate rape" caused a firestorm in August. In Congress, Coffman backed a bill that would have restricted the federal ban on abortion to "forcible rape."

Miklosi has a history working in Democratic-leaning political circles in Colorado, including as state director of Progressive Majority, which worked to elect Democratic candidates to political office. In 2008, he won his first political campaign to serve in the Colorado state legislature.

"If there's a race that's going to flip in Colorado, this will be it," Jessica Taylor with the Rothenberg Political Report said. She added, however, that Miklosi will need President Obama's voters to show up in high numbers for him to see a victory.

FL-18: Republican Rep. Allen West vs. Patrick Murphy

Tea Party favorite Rep. Allen West swept into Congress with the Republican landslide in 2010. Redistricting has forced him to fight for reelection in a new district, which may wind up being a fortuitous turn of events since the electorate is slightly more Republican than his current district. His new district, however, has the potential to swing either way.

"It's a toss up district but Allen West is not a toss up candidate," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Jesse Ferguson said, noting that Democrats are painting West as too partisan.

The Republican Party says West has a fundraising advantage and he appears to have a slight advantage with just over one month to go until Election Day. His district covers the east coast of South Florida, stretching from the parts of Miami to the Florida Keys.

His challenger, Patrick Murphy, is a 29-year old Republican-turned-Democrat who says the Republican Party has become too "extreme" and says his opponent is, too. Murphy has also launched a website documenting West's comments, including saying most members of the Democratic Party are Communist and that Social Security disability is a "form of modern...slavery."

The race is being bitterly fought with outside groups fueling the effort. Murphy's father, who started a super PAC called American Sunrise, has released an advertisement depicting West as a gold-toothed thug who beats up on women and workers. For his part, West released an ad juxtaposing his military service to Murphy's arrest for drunk and disorderly conduct a decade ago. Murphy, meanwhile, has called for local television stations to stop airing an ad by a pro-West outside group tying Murphy to the president's stimulus, which fact-checkers have labeled as false.

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell On Twitter»

    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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