Live

Watch CBSN Live

Eight House races to watch

(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.

MA-06: Democratic Rep. John Tierney v. Richard Tisei

Richard Tisei and Rep. John Tierney

Democratic incumbent Rep. John Tierney has represented his district in the House since 1997 but has a viable challenger in long-time Massachusetts legislator Richard Tisei.

"This is one race that should not be competitive," Jessica Taylor with Rothenberg Political Report said of the heavily-Democratic district that spans from the North Shore of Boston to the southern border of New Hampshire.

But Tierney's election troubles are in large part due to an illegal gambling business run by his brother-in-law. Although his wife pleaded guilty and served a stint in jail for assisting her brother in filing phony tax returns, Tierney has denied any knowledge of the scandal.

Challenger Tisei does not fit the mold of most Republican candidates running for national office but is more like Senate Republican candidate Sen. Scott Brown - a moderate Republican running in a Democratic region. Analysts say Brown's success could impact Tisei's success.

Although he is a fiscal conservative his stance on social issues is in line with district residents. Tisei is openly gay, backs same-sex marriage and would be the first openly gay Republican to be elected to national office.

Tisei, who represented the area in the state legislature for 26 years before running a failed bid for lieutenant governor in 2010, calls himself a "live-and-let-live" Republican. "As a 'live-and-let-live' Republican, my philosophy is that the government should get off our backs, out of our wallets, and away from the bedroom," he wrote in a letter to state GOP chairman Robert A. Maginn Jr.

Despite his vocal opposition to the national Republican platform on social issues, he is being heavily backed by the national Republican Party and was added to the first round of Republican-backed "young guns."

NC-7 : Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre v. David Rouzer

Rep. Mike McIntyre and David Rouzer

Incumbent Rep. Mike McIntyre is one of the endangered conservative Blue Dog Democrats who represent a district that leans Republican. His newly mapped district includes suburbs of Raleigh and areas along the coast. His challenger, state senator David Rouzer, is from the Raleigh area while McIntyre has represented the coast since 1997.

Because he survived the Republican landslide in 2010, when the GOP picked up more than 60 House seats, Jessica Taylor with the Rothenberg Political Report says McIntyre has a good chance of winning.

McIntyre is a social conservative and was even endorsed by the Concerned Women Political Action Committee, an anti-abortion organization that promotes other "Biblical principles."

Republicans are tying McIntyre to President Obama, saying in one ad that he supported the president 82 percent of the time and Democrats are tying Rouzer to vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's Medicare plan.

NV-03: Republican Rep. Joe Heck v. John Oceguera

Joe Heck and John Oceguera

Republican Rep. Joe Heck first won election to the House in 2010. He is being challenged by John Ocequera, speaker of the Nevada Assembly, in a swing district in a swing state that voted for President Obama in 2008.

As Heck has an advantage being the incumbent, Kyle Kondik with the University of Virginia's Center for Politics says high turnout for Mr. Obama "could wipe [his advantage] away."

Democrats have put a lot of resources into the race and admit that it's a race that they need to win in order to win back the House. They are tying Heck to Paul Ryan's plan to alter Medicare to include a voucher to purchase coverage and they are highlighting his vote to cut funding to Planned Parenthood.

Oceguera, however, has been hit by Republicans for collecting his pension after retiring at the age of 43, following a 20-year career with the fire department, while collecting a taxpayer-funded paycheck as a local elected official.

Tying the race to the national election and unimpressed with Mr. Obama, the local Las Vegas Review Journal endorsed Heck. "With Rep. Heck's help, the Republican House alone has been able to prevent the Obama administration from tying even bigger anchors to our fragile economy," the editors wrote. "Seldom do Nevada voters have such an easy choice in such a high-profile race."

PA-12: Democratic Rep. Mark Critz v. Keith Rothfus

Rep. Mark Critz and Keith Rothfus

In another redrawn district, Democratic Rep. Mark Critz is in a tight race against Keith Rothfus, who has never held political office.

The district leans Republican and although President Obama is polling well in Pennsylvania, this is a district Romney should win. Both Republicans and Democrats working for their respective candidates, however, say this race is going to be based on regional politics instead of the national ticket.

For instance, Rep. Critz, who won a special election in 2010 to fill the seat of his boss, the late Rep. John Murtha, was forced to run in the primary against his more conservative Democratic colleague, Rep, Jason Altmire. Critz is now running to the center during the general election by distancing himself from the president.

Like in many House races this fall, Democrats are tying Rothfus to Paul Ryan's plan to include a voucher option to Medicare.

UT-04: Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson v. Mia Love

Rep. Jim Matheson and Mia Love

Six-term Congressman Jim Matheson is up against Mia Love, whom some consider a rising star in the Republican Party. She is an African-American Mormon and the mayor of Sarasota Springs, Utah. She would be the first black Republican woman elected to Congress.

Love gave a well-received speech at the Republican National Convention where she talked about her immigrant parents coming to the U.S. from Haiti with $10 and never receiving government assistance.

Republicans "have been trying to beat Matheson for years," Kyle Kondik with the University of Virginia said. "She seems to be one of the more well-regarded candidates but Matheson is still going to be difficult to beat."

Rep. Matheson is a moderate Democrat and is a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats. Although Utah is a solidly Republican state, Matheson is a popular Democrat whose father served as governor.

A large portion of Love's campaign funding has come from Republican PACs affiliated with House leadership, including House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Paul Ryan, who is now Mitt Romney's running mate.

Love is running in lockstep with Romney, who is expected to win the district with overwhelming support. Although Matheson is polling better than Love, political analysts predict that Matheson will have to run 20 - 25 points ahead of President Obama in the district to squeak out a victory.

"She doesn't talk about what she's going to do, and she doesn't take any positions. She just ties herself to Mitt Romney, and I don't think that qualifies you to be a member of Congress," Matheson told the Salt Lake Tribune.

View CBS News In