WASHINGTON (NBC News) -- Looking ahead to next year, the NBC News Political Unit takes a look at the Top 10 Races to Watch in 2014.
In compiling the list, the crew looked at political races that had a combined criteria of being attention-grabbing AND competitive.
1. Kentucky SEN: This contest will probably receive the most NATIONAL attention over the entire year, given that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell faces a competitive GOP primary (against Matt Bevin) and a competitive general election (against Alison Grimes) if he advances. So it will gauge both the establishment-vs.-Tea Party fight inside the GOP, as well as whether Democrats have a shot to pick up a Senate seat in this red state. Always considered a formidable campaigner, McConnell also faces this challenge – protecting his right flank in the primary before the general election. Then again, Kentucky was a state where Mitt Romney outpaced President Obama, 61%-38%.
2. Florida GOV: This will be the marquee gubernatorial contest of 2014. It will feature vulnerable Gov. Rick Scott, who will spend millions upon millions of his own money. He'll likely face off against Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat Charlie Crist in an effort to reclaim his old job. And it takes place in one of the most important swing states in the country.
3. Louisiana SEN: The reason why this contest, right now, is the top Dem-held senate race to watch in 2014 is that it could well determine if Republicans can net the six seats needed to take back control of the Senate. More than the other red-state Dem held seats, this one has a lynchpin feel to it. The thinking: If Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) wins, it's likely that one of Kay Hagan (D-NC) or Mark Begich (D-AK) holds on, too. The opposite is true if Landrieu loses. It's also shaping up to be a great test of which message is more problematic – that Landrieu supported the health-care law (see this defensive Landrieu TV ad), or that GOP front-runner Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) voted to shut down the government in October (see this TV ad). Oh, and because Louisiana holds its free-for-all "jungle primary" on Election Day 2014 with the run-off on Dec. 6.
4. Arkansas SEN: This is another major GOP target. Can incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor hold on? This race has already featured invoking religion and a back and forth over how religious Pryor really is. It could get ugly. The other question, does Republican challenger, freshman Rep. Tom Cotton, prove to be the real deal? Also, does 50% even exist anymore for a Democrat running for a federal statewide office?
5. North Carolina SEN: As Roll Call recently reported, no contest so far has seen more TV advertising dollars than this race. The contest also will pit the state's favorable demographics for Democrats (sizable African-American and Latino populations), versus the Republican Party's gains in the state in the 2012 election. And here's why the 2014 map is so challenging for Democrats: Out all of the competitive contests so far, North Carolina is the one where Obama performed the best in '12 (getting 48% of the vote).
6. WI GOV: Everyone's talking about Scott Walker as a potential 2016 presidential dark horse. But he has to win reelection as governor first. It's not something a lot of people are talking about, but the question is can Scott Walker win three statewide races in five years? That would be quite the feat in this Midwestern swing state.Polls have shown as tight race between Walker and touted Democratic challenger Mary Burke, a Madison school board member and former state Secretary of Commerce. She's campaigned hard already, but the caliber of her candidacy remains to be seen. She will have the chance to prove her bona fides because state Senator Kathleen Vinehout appears likely to challenge her in a primary (which will take place Aug. 12).
7. Ohio GOV: If John Kasich wants to run for president, like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, he has to win reelection first in this all-important presidential battleground and he'll have a VERY tough re-election fight.
8. Alaska SEN: After Louisiana and North Carolina, this race will tell us a lot about whether Democrats can hold on to the Senate – or if Republicans can win it back. The contest outside the Lower 48 features incumbent Mark Begich (D-AK) against a GOP field consisting of Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and Joe Miller, who won the 2010 Republican Senate primary (but lost to write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski). The key for Begich may be third party candidates, not just the GOP primary. When Democrats win in Alaska, it's usually because they can make 47% or 48% a winning number.
9. GA SEN: Democrats don't have many targets this cycle. Kentucky is one, and they HOPE Georgia is another. They got a good candidate with Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn. Democrats think they might get a bank-shot opening in this state with changing demographics from a divisive GOP primary, featuring hardline conservative Reps. Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun, as well as Rep. Jack Kingston, thought to be the more centrist appropriator – although even Kingston has faced a backlash for saying recently that poor children should sweep cafeteria floors to learn there isn't "such a thing as a free lunch." The primary is May 20th.
10. CO/MI/MN SEN: One of these we assume will pop into the top 10. We're just not sure which one. If it's ONE, that might be OK for Democrats. But if it's two or more, that spells big problems for them because it means the national numbers that are cratering now have not recovered. Right now, our best guess is that it is Colorado that pops, but don't sleep on the open seat in Michigan or even Franken in Minnesota.
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