Nine House races to watch

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Most of the non-presidential election buzz understandably surrounds the Senate races, where Democrats need only a net gain of five seats to retake the chamber. 

But while it’s an uphill battle for the Democrats in the House – they need to net 30 seats to secure the majority – that doesn’t mean there aren’t some competitive races. 

Whether it’s an embattled incumbent defending a swing seat or a heated primary, here are some of the most competitive races to keep an eye on in the New Year:

Iowa’s 1st District

Freshman Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa) is considered one of the most vulnerable House incumbents and will need to defend his seat that leans slightly Democratic. He won an open seat in the 2014 GOP wave election, but the district went to President Obama in the 2012 presidential election.

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It’s a top Democratic priority, but before the general election kicks off, a crowded Democratic primary field has emerged, which includes 2014 nominee Pat Murphy, Cedar Rapids Councilwoman Monica Vernon, and SNL alum and political newcomer Gary Kroeger.

It’s expected to be a close primary between Murphy and Vernon, but the city councilwoman, who was runner-up in 2014’s Democratic primary, had an early entry into the race and has earned the endorsement of EMILY’s List, the national group that typically backs female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights.

Colorado’s 6th District 

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) represents a toss-up district in a state that was the tipping point in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential election. But the GOP incumbent has made a pointed effort to appeal to Latinos, a key voter bloc that represents 20 percent of his district, and easily won reelection in 2014. 

Democrats landed their top recruit, state Sen. Morgan Carroll, in the hopes of toppling Coffman, who has represented the district for four terms. A month after announcing, Carroll garnered a coveted endorsement from EMILY’s List.

As national security becomes a prominent issue in 2016, Coffman and Carroll are already sparring for their likely general election match-up. Attack ads have panned Coffman’s vote against banning firearms from those on the FBI's terror watchlist, while Carroll was criticized for supporting Obama’s plan to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. 

Arizona’s 1st District 

Rep. Ann KirkpatrickAnn KirkpatrickThe Trail 2016: Sanders who? McCain campaign blocks own ad from YouTube Poll: McCain locked in tough reelection fight MORE (D-Ariz.) is departing to run for the Senate in 2016. Her competitive seat is an expansive district where Native Americans make up 23 percent of the population – a voter bloc that historically votes Democratic. 

But with an open seat, Republicans see a chance to grab the seat. The GOP field has attracted a number of candidates including Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, rancher Gary Kiehne, former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, state Speaker David Gowan, political newcomer and member of the Navajo Nation Shawn Redd.

Democrats have coalesced around the only declared candidate, former state Sen. Tom O’Halleran, a Republican-turned-Democrat. He’s secured endorsements from prominent party establishment, including Kirkpatrick herself. Also running is 2012 candidate Miguel Olivas. State Sen. Barbara McGuire has been considering running, but has decided to run for reelection instead.

Illinois’ 10th District 

Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.) is considered a more moderate Republican, voting against repealing ObamaCare back in February and supporting a resolution that calls for action on climate change

Dold represents a toss-up district that voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 by wide margins and has gone back-and-forth in tight elections between Dold and former Rep. Brad Schneider in 2012 and 2014.

But before Dold squares off again with Schneider, the former Congressman is in a heated Democratic primary with Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which normally doesn’t endorse in primaries, however, has thrown its support behind Schneider. 

Florida’s 18th District 

Back in March, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.) launched a Senate run, opening up his toss-up seat that narrowly voted for Obama in 2008 and Romney in 2012. 

Crowded fields are shaping up on both sides of the aisles, and millions of dollars are expected to come into play to win the open House seat. 

Several candidates have already vowed to self-fund $1 million to help jumpstart their campaigns including physician Mark Freeman, a Republican, and millionaire businessman Randy Perkins, a Democrat. 2014 GOP nominee Carl Domino has said he’d spend $1 million again and has already cut himself two checks.

The large sums of money already flooding into the race have pushed out some candidates including Democrat Melissa McKinlay, a Palm Beach county commissioner. She dropped out of the race less than a week after Perkins announced his bid. 

Utah’s 4th District 

Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah), who’s the first black female Republican to serve in the House, is considered a rising star in the GOP. But she recently came under scrutiny after charging taxpayers for weekend flights to attend last year’s White House Correspondents’ Association’s dinner. 

Love agreed to pay back taxpayers for the costly flights, but the backlash has reignited Democratic hopes. 

Doug Owens, who was the 2014 Democratic nominee, has decided to try for a rematch with Love, and the DCCC has been hammering Love’s financial woes in a flurry of press releases.

The district is considered a Republican stronghold, but even in a district that voted overwhelmingly for Mitt Romney in 2012, Love defeated Owens by less than 4 percentage points in 2014.  

Minnesota’s 2nd District 

In September, Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) decided to vacate his swing-seat and retire from Congress. It’s a critical seat for Democrats if they expect to win back the majority. The Republican-controlled seat went to Obama in both 2008 and 2012. 

On the Democratic side, things are starting to heat up between former medical executive Angie Craig and physician Mary Lawrence. The DCCC and EMILY’s List are both staying out prior to the general election. But Craig has already landed key endorsements from labor groups and two congressman. Roger Kittelson, a little known candidate, is also running for the nomination. 

Republicans are also seeing a crowded field take shape including 2014 GOP candidate David Gerson, state Sen. John Howe, former state Rep. Pam Myhra, and former radio show host Jason Lewis.

New Hampshire’s 1st District 

Embattled Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.) will have to overcome his campaign finance mishap in his already competitive seat. An FEC investigation found that he accepted an illegal donation from his parents, and he has since agreed to pay back the loan.

There had been calls for Guinta to resign, even from high-ranking Republicans like Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteSenators to Obama: Make 'timely' call on Afghan troops levels Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief fears sequestration's return Senate GOP ties Iran sanctions fight to defense bill MORE (R-N.H.). But Guinta plans to run for reelection and faces a primary challenge from 2014 GOP challenger Dan Innis. Several other Republicans have floated the possibility of running since the scandal. 

If Guinta emerges from a likely-bruising primary, it could possibly be the embattled congressman’s fourth rematch with former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.). But Shea-Porter also faces her own primary against Democratic rival Shawn O’Connor.

O’Connor, however, has already looked past the primary and launched TV ads to weaken the already-vulnerable Guinta.

This swing district went to Obama in 2008 and again in 2012, by a one-point margin. 

New Jersey’s 5th District 

Rep. Scott GarrettScott GarrettDivided GOP to powwow on budget Overnight Campaign: Paul mounts attempt to make main debate stage Republican: ObamaCare helped 'one or two people' nationally MORE (R-N.J.) has served in Congress since 2003, and has warded off Democratic primary challengers by at least 12-point margin in this GOP-leaning district. 

But Garrett came under fire in July for refusing to pay dues to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) since the House GOP campaign arm recruits and contributes to gay candidates. 

Democrats have reveled at the prospect of unseating Garrett, and Josh Gottheimer, a former speechwriter for President Bill ClintonBill ClintonClinton's ace in the hole: Obama Eric Trump: Clinton 'filled with scandal' McAuliffe heads off probe that could hurt Clinton MORE speechwriter, could be the party’s best chance. In the wake of Garrett’s comments, Gottheimer collected $400,000 from July to September and to date, has $934,000 cash on hand, according to figures from the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

But while fundraising for Garrett has slowed down, Gottheimer will still likely go up against a well-funded incumbent who has a $2.3 million cash advantage.