2014 midterms users guide

Feinstein: Hillary at "political prime"
Feinstein: Hillary at "political prime"

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    Feinstein: Hillary at "political prime"

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Feinstein: Hillary at "political prime" 02:43

Story highlights

  • Republican primaries will indicate strength of establishment vs. the tea party
  • Obamacare will play a role in the outcome; the question is how big
  • 2014 midterms will be the opening act for 2016 presidential elections

Amid the cacophony of political analysis and reporting around the midterm elections, here's a user's guide -- our effort to slice and dice the story lines for what you need to know from now till November.

1. Return of the establishment Republicans: But will it mean GOP victories in the fall? The tea party's candidates have failed to catch on in Kentucky, North Carolina and Mississippi, to name a few. Absent any onetime witches in the field, there's no guarantee that the tea party faithful will turn out in droves to push Sen. Mitch McConnell over the finish line to re-election in November.

2014 primary calendar

2. Wherefore art thou, independents? Are they disenfranchised conservatives or middle-of-the-road voters who are thoroughly ticked off at Washington? Either way, will they vote?

3. Minimum wage/minimum gain? Will Democrats get a minimum return on the time they have invested on the issue? President Barack Obama continually pushed for an increase in the minimum wage throughout the year. He's been taking it to voters outside the Beltway. But is the issue doing what Democrats are hoping for and energizing their base?

Can the tea party stand the test of time?
Can the tea party stand the test of time?

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    Can the tea party stand the test of time?

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Can the tea party stand the test of time? 05:32
Obama admits Democrats have a problem
Obama admits Democrats have a problem

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    Obama admits Democrats have a problem

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Obama admits Democrats have a problem 05:34
GOP Candidates Balk at Sen. McConnell
GOP Candidates Balk at Sen. McConnell

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    GOP Candidates Balk at Sen. McConnell

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GOP Candidates Balk at Sen. McConnell 01:28

4. Boehner and the border: Will House Speaker John Boehner take immigration reform to the floor? Will he buck his caucus' most conservative members? And if so, will it have any effect on who turns out to vote?

5. Embrace the Act: Can Democrats effectively run on the parts of the Affordable Care Act that the public likes? Will the public still like any of it as the year wears on? Who'll run away from it, and who'll run on it? And with polls showing almost half of the country now wanting to tweak it instead of throwing it out, can running on the anti-Obamacare theme gin up the conservative base as much as some in the GOP expect?

6. The 2016 GOP field: Fired up and ready to go ... but to where?

2014 midterms: What's at stake

7. Meet the Clintons: Where will they campaign? Will they focus their efforts on early primary states, or will they leapfrog directly to the 2016 purple states? And when they're campaigning, will we hear them selling the Obama years or laying out their rationale for Hillary's expected 2016 run?

8. The other ones: Where, if anywhere, on the campaign trail will we see the 2016 Democrats-in-waiting like Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar? What are they selling?

9. Who'll rise from the masses? If the Republicans are looking outside the Beltway for their 2016 champion, who'll most effectively use 2014 to stand out from the rest?

2014 key races to watch

10. The economy, the economy, the economy: There are only five more jobs reports between now and Election Day; is there a silver lining or a sliver of hope for Democrats that Obama's economy will be their life raft rather than their anvil?

11. The first couple: As Obama seems relegated to collecting checks at Democrats' fundraisers, will the first lady hit the hustings?

N.C.: GOP establishment wins
N.C.: GOP establishment wins

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    N.C.: GOP establishment wins

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N.C.: GOP establishment wins 01:51
Recreational reefer in California?
Recreational reefer in California?

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    Recreational reefer in California?

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Recreational reefer in California? 01:26
Mr. Castro comes to Washington
Mr. Castro comes to Washington

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    Mr. Castro comes to Washington

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Mr. Castro comes to Washington 05:39

12. Where's Joe?: Keep track of how many times Vice President Joe Biden pops up in New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Florida in the next six months.

Potential 2016 candidates

13. Chris Christie's Republican Governors Association: How successful will the New Jersey governor be at getting Republican governors elected? Will he have gathered enough chits and contacts within the GOP's donor class to revitalize his vision of sitting in the Oval Office?

14. Marijuana on their mind? Will there be a "higher" turnout in Alaska and Oregon, where voters will get the chance to legalize pot? Could those states keep the Senate blue?

15. Benghazi backlash: Is it a cold that could develop into a flu for Democrats? While they might brush aside Rep. Trey Gowdy's special committee as a joke, the GOP base will eat it up.

Complete 2014 midterms coverage