Top 5 House primaries to watch

House races are getting off to an early start, with much of the action developing in already contentious primaries. Here's a look at five of the ones likely to produce the biggest fireworks in 2014.

Pa.-08

Incumbent: Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R).

Fitzpatrick is a top target for Democrats, and they have their recruit in Army veteran and former CIA officer Kevin Strouse. But he'll face a credible challenge from Shaughnessy Naughton, a scientist and small business owner who jumped into the race in May.

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Strouse has already been named to the DCCC's "Jumpstart" program, which offers promising recruits fundraising and communications support by the Washington campaign apparatus. He posted a strong fundraising haul since announcing his candidacy in April, bringing in more than $250,000 — with the help of DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who headlined a fundraiser for him.

But he only recently moved to Pennsylvania from D.C., opening him up to carpetbagging charges — and Naughton wasted no time in attacking him.

“He is the handpicked candidate of Washington, D.C. Washington is the problem. We’re not going to fix that by bringing more Washington to represent Bucks County," she said when she announced her candidacy in May, according to the Intelligencer.

And there's already indications that local Democrats are irked at the national party's engagement in the race, a trend that, if it grows, could spark backlash against Strouse at the polls. A progressive Pennsylvania politics blog urged a "hands-off approach" in the primary.

A competitive primary could drain much-needed resources early in the race, when Democrats will need every cent available for the general, if the DCCC decides to intervene on Strouse's behalf. Naughton's first fundraising report will be an early indication of whether this primary is one Democrats will need to worry about.

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Mass.-06

Incumbent: Rep. John Tierney (D)

Tierney already has a Republican target on his back, but the scandal swirling around his family and his small win margin in 2012 have given fellow Democrats reason to take notice as well.

One Democrat, local businessman and former Marine Seth Moulton, has already jumped in the race, and another, onetime Senate candidate and attorney Marisa DeFranco is "taking a very strong look" at running.

Moulton is untested and relatively unknown, but his profile makes him the type of candidate that Democrats would love to have run — if not necessarily in a contested primary. He's brought big Democratic guns to his campaign — Joe Trippi, who managed Howard Dean's 2004 presidential bid, and Max Glass, campaign manager for Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) — an indication he's taking the race seriously, and not just running to raise his profile for future political plans.

DeFranco ran a lackluster 2012 Senate primary campaign, and after struggling to raise money she was steamrolled at the state party convention by then-candidate Elizabeth Warren, who took more than 90 percent of the vote for the party's nomination.

The DCCC has placed Tierney on their Frontline program, which offers its most vulnerable Democratic incumbents fundraising and operational help — but they issued that protection with a likely rematch between Tierney and Republican Richard Tisei in mind.

It remains to be seen whether the party apparatus will defend him in what could be a fierce primary.

If DeFranco decides to run, she could split the anti-Tierney vote and offer the incumbent a pathway back to the nomination.

But observers expect more details to emerge from Tierney's family's scandal, which centers on an offshore gambling ring. A steady drip of bad news for the incumbent could seriously jeopardize his bid for reelection even before the general campaign begins.

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Ida.- 02

Incumbent: Rep. Mike Simpson (R)

Though Simpson is used to primary challenges, he's likely to see his first credible, well-funded one in attorney Bryan Smith, who received the Club for Growth's first endorsement of the 2014 cycle this past week.

Simpson, by Club standards, is one of the most moderate Republicans in the House, with a lifetime 58 percent score on the conservative group's report card. His district, however, is heavily Republican, and Mitt Romney won there last year with 64 percent of the vote.

Smith, who has Tea Party support, announced raising $147,000 in just one month, a strong fundraising haul for a primary challenger. The Club for Growth typically spends big for its favored candidates in primaries, as well.

But Simpson raised a solid sum, too, in the third quarter, bringing in $300,000.

And Simpson is a longtime ally of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), and he could find help in high places if Smith gains traction in the polls. The National Republican Congressional Committee typically stays out of primaries, but expect Simpson to see support from some of his fellow less-embattled incumbents, and perhaps even Boehner himself.

This primary could offer a test of whether, absent the intense anti-establishment furor that characterized the 2010 elections, the Club for Growth is still a commanding force in primaries.

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Calif.- 17

Incumbent: Rep. Mike Honda (D)

Honda has heavy and active support from the Democratic establishment, but the race between Honda and Democratic primary challenger and former Obama official Ro Khanna will pit the party's establishment against many donors and allies of its figurehead, President Obama.

Honda has received the endorsement of nearly every major Democratic figure, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.), and President Obama himself. Vice President Biden has already stopped in California to campaign for the longtime congressman.

But Khanna, who has known Obama since his first run for state senator, signed several of Obama's top campaign staffers on for his bid, including Jeremy Bird, Obama's 2012 national field director, and Steve Spinner, a top Obama campaign fundraiser who is chairing Khanna’s campaign.

Khanna just announced raising a monumental $1 million in the first three months of his campaign, aided by contributions from a number of top Obama donors, including Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Napster founder Sean Parker.

Honda raised $345,000 last quarter, and has $375,000 cash on hand to Khanna's $1.75 million.

The racial makeup of the district, which is heavily Asian-American but has seen an influx of Indian-Americans, could also play a role in a primary.

The incumbent is still favored for reelection, as he's well-liked and has given voters little reason to send him home. His campaign released a poll earlier this year showing him leading Khanna 57 percent to 5 percent.

But Khanna's campaign is pledging to use Obama-style digital tactics to reach out to new voters and get them to the polls. Khanna is also hoping to appeal to more moderate Democrats and Republicans in the district, in hopes of taking advantage of California's "jungle primary" system, where the top two vote-getters in a primary head to the general, regardless of party.

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Calif. - 31

Incumbent: Rep. Gary Miller (R)

Democrats likely won't squander one of their top pickup opportunities in this blue-leaning district, like they did in 2012, but the clashes between four Democrats, Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, former Rep. Joe Baca, attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes and school board official Danny Tillman, are already sparking fireworks as the race heats up.

The DCCC weighed in early to back Aguilar, in hopes of clearing the field and protecting Democratic chances at the seat. California's "jungle" primary system means the top two vote-getters in a primary, regardless of party, move on to the general, and multiple Democratic contenders could split the Democratic vote.

If no other Republican enters the race, however, Democrats are likely to see one of their own make it to the general election — but if the intraparty squabbles continue on their current path, that candidate could emerge from the primary significantly bruised, if not weakened.

Aguilar has already lashed out at Baca for previously supporting Miller, when Baca was running in a neighboring district.

Both have touted endorsements from current House lawmakers, but after Baca released a list of endorsements of 30 of his former colleagues, a number of lawmakers either withdrew their endorsements or claimed they had never made them in the first place.

Aguilar raised $300,000 in the second quarter, and Reyes brought in $200,000. Baca's fundraising report will be an indication of how much he's been able to rally his prior supporters to back him in his current bid.

While Tillman has largely flown under the radar so far, Reyes could be a wildcard in the race. She hasn't yet gone on the attack, but she has the backing of EMILY's List, a group that has been known to spend thousands on its favored candidates.

—This piece has been updated to correct Kevin Strouse's career history.

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