- All 435 House seats are up in midterms and Democrats must win 17 GOP seats to regain control
- The tea party is mounting a challenge against senior Republicans
- Democrats won't have the down-ballot help from President Obama this election
Although all 435 House seats are up in November's midterms, redistricting has reduced the number of swing races and made it easier for political watchers to keep up with those seats truly up for grabs.
But redistricting has made it more difficult for Democrats to retake control of the chamber for the first time since 2010. With fewer seats in play, they must capture 17 held by Republicans.
Adding to the challenge for Democrats is that a traditionally older midterm electorate tends to favor Republicans. Regardless, they are still making a play and Republicans are defending their turf.
Here are 5 key races to watch:
Take a vacant House seat in a swing district in a purple state and you get what many see as a March 11 special election that could serve as a bellwether for midterms.
The national political spotlight will shine on the 13th Congressional District race to fill the remainder of the term of Republican Rep. Bill Young of Florida, who died in October.
The district covers most of Pinellas County and parts of St. Petersburg and it's up for grabs: While Young grabbed 58% of the vote in his 2012 re-election, President Barack Obama narrowly carried the district. Obama also won it 2008, grabbing 51% support.
"It almost goes without saying, but this is the type of seat and race Democrats have to win in order to have any chance of gaining the 17 seats they need in 2014 to get back to the majority," wrote Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.
Alex Sink, the former chief financial officer of Florida and the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, is her party's consensus candidate. David Jolly, who served as a former general counsel for Young and also worked as a lobbyist, will face off against state Sen. Kathleen Peters in the January 14 Republican primary.
A rematch in swing district in southern Arizona will receive plenty of national media attention in 2014.
Democratic Rep. Ron Barber is running for re-election in the Tucson area district that he won by less than 2,500 votes in 2012. Barber will face off against the same Republican challenger he edged out last time - retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally.
While Barber came out on top in the 2012 contest, GOP nominee Mitt Romney narrowly captured Arizona's 2nd Congressional District in the presidential election.
It's been in the headlines the past four years. Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords pushed back against the GOP wave in the 2010 midterms and won re-election. But two months later, Giffords was seriously hurt in a shooting that left six people dead. She left Congress in 2012.
Barber, a top Giffords aide and who was also injured in the shooting, won the special election to succeed her.
Democrats are determined to keep the seat, but Republicans see it as a prime pickup opportunity.
This is a race in the Northeast that could produce a lot of intrigue.
Incumbent John Tierney has held the solidly Democratic Massachusetts seat since 1997, but nearly lost it in 2012 after his wife's conviction for her role in her brother's illegal gambling venture.
Displeased Democrats saw an opening after Tierney's narrow victory, so now he faces a primary test from Seth Moulton, a Marine who served four tours in Iraq and has been able to raise a significant amount of money.
The primary winner could face Tierney's rival last time out, Republican Richard Tisei. He is a longtime state legislator and would be the first openly gay member of the GOP to be elected to Congress.
There is no question that a Republican is going to win this race but who will it be?
The contest in Idaho's 2nd Congressional District illustrates the deep friction within the Republican Party.
Incumbent Mike Simpson has served in the House for 14 years, leads an Appropriations subcommittee, and is a close friend of Speaker John Boehner. But the tea party wing of the GOP wants him out.
The influential outside group, Club for Growth, has listed Simpson as one of its primary targets. One of the many things it doesn't like about him is his vote to reopen the government following the 16-day shutdown in October.
The group is backing tea party activist and Idaho Falls attorney Bryan Smith.
But Simpson has his friends. The Main Street Partnership, run by former Rep. Steve LaTourette, has vowed to spend $1 million dollars helping him win re-election.
"This May 2014 GOP primary has already turned into an all-out proxy war between the GOP's ideological purists like the Club for Growth .. .and Speaker John Boehner," Cook Political Report wrote.
This is likely to be one of the most expensive - and closely watched - primary House races.
This electoral mood in the central California district currently favors Republican incumbent Jeff Denham. But this race is interesting because it could be closely tied to what happens -- or doesn't happen -- in Washington this year.
The 10th Congressional District includes the city of Modesto and parts of the San Joaquin Valley. It is largely farm land. More than 40% of its residents are Latino, so immigration reform is going likely to be a critical factor for these residents.
Denham has been pushing fellow House Republicans to take up the issue but its fate is uncertain.
Bee farmer Michael Eggman has already jumped in the race, running as a Democrat, and Denham's 2012 challenger, Jose Hernandez, the first Latino NASA astronaut in space, could also be a factor.
While Obama won the district with just over 50% of the vote, Cook Political Report predicts the electorate will be more Republican in a non-election year.
The election in Utah's 4th Congressional District will be in the national spotlight not because it's considered a close contest - it's not - but because of the candidate who's expected to come out on top come November.
Republican Mia Love, an African-American Mormon, lost the 2012 race in the district that stretches from central Utah to the southern suburbs of Salt Lake City to longtime Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson by less than 800 votes.
Love, who had the support of tea party activists and other grassroots conservatives, was featured prominently by the national party with a prime speaking slot at the 2012 GOP convention. Love announced in 2013 that she would once again challenge Matheson.
But last month, Matheson announced he would retire at the end of his term, making Love the instant frontrunner. If everything goes as scripted, the House will say hello to its first-ever black female Republican.
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