Midterm surprises still in store?
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The worst thing that can happen to a campaign is something unpredictable.

Candidates can drop a gaffe that alienates 47 percent of the nation. A perfect candidate can jump in a race late and completely upend it. Veteran lawmakers can decide suddenly to retire, leaving the party with few options to replace him or her.


The prospect of an unforeseen event rattling a race keeps strategists awake at night, planning for every possible contingency. But those prospects are what make so many campaigns nail-biters till the very end.

We’re less than nine months from Election Day 2014, and here are five unanswered questions we’re wondering about, and we know many consultants and strategists are too: 

Will former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) jump in the New Hampshire Senate race?

Without Brown, Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani says DC policymakers need to do more to support ventures and 'solo-preneurs'; Federal unemployment benefits expire as coronavirus deal-making deadlocks Overnight Defense: Pompeo pressed on move to pull troops from Germany | Panel abruptly scraps confirmation hearing | Trump meets family of slain soldier Shaheen, Chabot call for action on new round of PPP loans MORE (D) is favored to keep her seat as she faces four Republicans, none of whom have yet given Democrats cause for concern. In polls she’s consistently led every candidate by double digits, and even topped a generic Republican by 10 points in a November survey.

But Brown would shake her from that safe perch if he decided to run. Three of four polls on the race out in January showed him holding her to single digits, and one showed him tying it. He’s made no secret of the fact he’s interested, and has been dropping into GOP fundraisers and stumping for candidates across the state, sparking renewed speculation over his plans every time he headlines a luncheon — or takes a shirtless dip into a freezing lake.

Democrats privately admit he’s a concern, due to his starpower and impressive fundraising abilities. To wit, they’ve already dropped hundreds of thousands into the state in attack ads hitting Brown, in hopes of tanking his popularity early on to dissuade him out of the race.

But with a June filing date, Brown could keep the state guessing, and Shaheen’s team on tenterhooks, for months.

Who’s the next Todd Akin?

Two words — “legitimate rape” — from the Missouri Republican Senate candidate sunk his chances and burdened the campaigns of many other Republicans in 2012. Now, the party’s establishment is working hard to avoid another unforced, fatal error. 

But potential landmine candidates are everywhere. In Kansas, Milton Wolf, Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsMcConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill The Hill's Campaign Report: COVID-19 puts conventions in flux  The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Virus bill unlikely to pass this week MORE’ primary challenger, has compared President Obama to Hitler and Mussolini.

In Mississippi, Chris McDaniels is challenging Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranEspy wins Mississippi Senate Democratic primary Bottom Line Mike Espy announces Mississippi Senate bid MORE (R ) in the primary. But the state senator has a history of controversial comments: He once wondered why Hollywood doesn’t cast Muslims as villains, said waterboarding is “a fairly humane form of torture” and has called the Democratic Party a party of “sex on demand.”

In Georgia, a trio of GOP Senate candidates, all members of the House, have Republicans sweating. Rep. Paul BrounPaul Collins BrounHundreds apply to fill Isakson's Senate seat in Georgia Joe Lieberman's son running for Senate in Georgia California lawmaker's chief of staff resigns after indictment MORE previously called scientific theories like evolution “lies straight from the pit of hell” and has floated impeaching President Obama; Rep. Jack Kingston suggested low-income students should sweep floors in exchange for subsidized school lunches; and Rep. Phil GingreyJohn (Phil) Phillip GingreyEx-Tea Party lawmakers turn heads on K Street 2017's top health care stories, from ObamaCare to opioids Beating the drum on healthcare MORE had no problem embracing Akin, with the OB-GYN saying his remarks that pregnancies don’t happen in cases of “legitimate rape” were “partially right.”

And just this week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCoronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks Overnight Health Care: Ohio governor tests positive for COVID-19 ahead of Trump's visit | US shows signs of coronavirus peak, but difficult days lie ahead | Trump: COVID-19 vaccine may be ready 'right around' Election Day MORE’s (R-Ky.) primary challenger Matt Bevin suggested legalizing same-sex marriage could lead to legalizing parent-child marriages, opening himself up to criticism from Democrats.

Kansas and Mississippi are likely to stay in GOP hands, but Democrats have serious challengers in both Georgia and Kentucky, and minor missteps could quickly grow into major, campaign-ending mistakes. 

Could other candidates still shake up a race?

While Brown would expand the Senate map, other potential candidates could significantly upend a race, in both good and bad ways.

In Louisiana, disgraced ex-Gov. Edwin Edwards (D) is toying with a run in an open, heavily GOP seat. He spent eight years in prison after being convicted of racketeering but was elected governor four times. There’s one other Democrat already in the race, but seven Republicans are vying for a shot at the safe seat.

Edwards isn’t expected to win it, or even really put the seat into play. But he could give Democrats in the state a bit of a headache — he’s known for his colorful campaign antics and quotes, and doesn’t shy from the limelight. Any comments along the same lines as his infamous 1983 statement that “The only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy” (before winning his race) could be damaging for Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuBottom line A decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth Congress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face MORE (D-La.), who’s locked in a tough race, if Republicans tried to use it against her.

And in Mississippi, in case McDaniel does make it through the primary — a real possibility, as Cochran is considered the most vulnerable incumbent in the nation — Democrats are pushing former Rep. Travis Childers to jump in the race before the March 1 filing deadline.

Democrats hope Childers, a centrist Blue Dog Democrat, could put the seat in play and potentially orchestrate an outcome similar to the one that flipped former Sen. Dick Lugar’s (R-Ind.) seat for Democrats. Then, Lugar failed to make it through a primary and the GOP nominee, Richard Mourdock, made ill-timed comments about rape and pregnancy that crippled his campaign in the final stretch. That helped now-Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEx-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden Lobbying world 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents MORE (D) pull off the upset. 

Who’s next out the door?

The threat of moderate Democrats and Republicans retiring from Congress and opening up competitive seats remains real for both parties. 

GOP members that have headed for the exits have put their seats in play, with retirements from Reps. Jim GerlachJames (Jim) GerlachThe business case for employer to employee engagement 2018 midterms: The blue wave or a red dawn? Pa. GOP 'disappointed' by rep retiring after filing deadline MORE (R-Pa.), Tom Latham (R-Iowa) and Jon Runyan (R-N.J.). Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.) was already a longshot for re-election, and his retirement likely hands Democrats that seat. Will any other centrists, frustrated with congressional gridlock and the sharp, rightward turn of their party, also call it quits? 

But some Democratic retirements have stung more. Exits from Blue Dog Reps. Jim MathesonJames (Jim) David MathesonTrump EPA eases standards for coal ash disposal Utah redistricting reform measure likely to qualify for ballot Trump's budget targets affordable, reliable power MORE (R-Utah) and Mike McIntyre (R-N.C.) give the GOP near-sure wins and make their already difficult climb to the majority even harder. 

But other centrist Democrats in solidly red seats are worth watching. Reps. Colin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Nick RahallNick Joe RahallWe shouldn't allow politics to impede disaster relief Break the cycle of partisanship with infant, child health care programs Clinton mulls role in 2018 midterms MORE (D-W.Va.) are still considered top retirement risks, and Peterson has said he won’t make a decision until next month. If either decided not to run again, Democrats would be hard-pressed to protect their seats. 

Could open seat primaries go awry? 

Primary fights can ruin the parties’ best shot at flipping or retaining seats.

Republicans face that possibility in New York’s 21st district and Iowa’s 3rd. 

Though Democrats have picked a political unknown to run for the seat of retiring Rep. Bill Owens (D) after stronger candidates passed, Republicans have a primary battle on their hands between the establishment pick, former Bush White House staffer Elise Stefanik, and a two-time failed candidate for the seat, Matt Doheny.

Doheny has considerable baggage — but he’s also got deep pockets — and if he wins the primary, Republicans worry he could give Democrats a shot at retaining the seat.

Rep. Jon Runyan's (R-N.J.) retirement has put into play a competitive district for Democrats, and the reappearance of former GOP Senate candidate Steve Lonegan could seriously jeopardize Republicans' chances of keeping the seat. Lonegan made a national name for himself with his controversial comments on the campaign trail last year, questioning Sen. Cory Booker's (D) masculinity at one point. Democrats have Burlington County Freeholder Aimee Belgard in the race, and while a number of other Republicans have expressed interest, so far Lonegan is their only announced candidate.

In California's 21st district, Democrats think they finally have a strong candidate to take down perennial target Rep. David Valadao (R) in Democrat Amanda Renteria. But another run from Democrat John Hernandez, who last cycle made it through the primary instead of the establishment pick and went on to lose the race in the general, threatens to snatch the race out of the party's grasp yet again.