Political stars to watch in 2014 - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Political stars to watch in 2014

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WASHINGTON (NBC News) -- With 35 senate races, 435 House races and 36 contests for governor on the ballot next fall, 2014 is certain to bring forward a new cast of political stars.

Look no further than last year for proof. Even though it was a non-election year, 2013 saw several politicians leap from relative obscurity to national prominence. Chief among them was Texas Senator Ted Cruz, whose 21-hour talk-a-thon on the Senate floor made him the face of the Republican Party's opposition to Obamacare as Congress barreled into the government shutdown in October.

Others who raised their profiles included Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, who touted the issue of income inequality to become stars for progressive Democrats seeking to address the topic.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., used 2013 to burnish her bipartisan credentials with her work to curb sexual assaults in the United States military, though her amendment was ultimately dropped from the defense authorization bill. Likewise Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., showcased her ability to work across the aisle by joining with Democrats to help end the government shutdown.

Some of those who splashed into the national spotlight aren't done yet and even some familiar names are poised to make a big impact in 2014 as the midterm elections ushers in a new class of politicians with the potential to shape statehouses and Congress for years to come.

Here is a look at some of the candidates who will shape 2014 and, potentially, beyond:

Liz Cheney

The daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney made Wyoming politics much more interesting when she announced her primary challenge to Republican Sen. Mike Enzi. The Cheneys are a highly esteemed family among Wyoming Republicans, but Enzi is widely regarded as a good senator who has represented his conservative constituents well.

The race has already proven to be personal and bitter, a political rarity in the sparsely populated state. Enzy said he felt blind-sided by the challenge and Dick Cheney refuted the senator's claim that the two were ever "fishing buddies."

On top of sparring with Enzi, the Cheneys have also sparred with themselves. Liz Cheney's campaign stumbled out of the gate when her sister, who is married to a woman, posted on Facebook that her sibling is "on the wrong side of history" on the issue of same-sex marriage. Though gay marriage will unlikely be a defining issue in the race, a feud within the Cheney family could be a big distraction.

If polling shows an even somewhat close race, the Cheney/Enzi duel will suck up much of the political media's attention ahead of the August primary.

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis ignited an often ignored political contingent -- Texas Democrats -- when she staged an 11-hour filibuster in June to prevent a vote on a restrictive abortion bill. The bill ultimately passed, but Davis and the pink tennis shoes she wore during her stand catapulted the Fort Worth state senator to national fame as a champion for women's rights.

Davis now hopes to translate that excitement into a successful run for governor in the solidly red Lone Star State. It has been nearly 20 years since a Democrat was elected governor in Texas, and Obama lost the state by 16 points in 2012. But Davis' star power has helped her campaign rake in some major cash to take on likely GOP candidate Greg Abbott in the race to succeed Gov. Rick Perry. The attention those outside the state will give to the race may make it closer than most Texas Republicans are used to.

Tom Cotton

Republicans have been eying Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor's seat in Arkansas for a while now, and Rep. Tom Cotton will give the GOP a fighting chance to take it. The two have been campaigning for more than a year in a state where Obama won just 37 percent of the vote in 2012. The 36-year-old Bronze Star recipient has already received major help from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's Reclaim America PAC, which made a big TV ad buy that emphasized Cotton's military background and promise to fight big spending.

Look for other GOP heavyweights to get involved in a race that is one of Republicans best shots at snagging back a Senate seat from Democrats.

Alison Lundergan Grimes

Democrats hope Alison Lundergan Grimes can mount a serious challenge to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who first needs to get past conservative Matt Bevin running to his right. The 35-year-old Kentucky secretary of state was courted to run by influential Democrats like Bill Clinton, and has enjoyed the former president's backing throughout her campaign. But even with the support and strong fundraising numbers, knocking off the five-term incumbent in a state Mitt Romney won with more than 60 percent of the vote in 2012 will be no small task.

Still expect Democrats to go all-in, attempting to make the Republican leader in the Senate look vulnerable.

Michelle Nunn

The daughter of former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn is running against a crowded Republican field that could produce a highly conservative candidate that would struggle in a general election. Though she has never run for public office, Michelle Nunn had an impressive $1.7 million fundraising haul last quarter. She currently serves as the CEO of Points of Light, a group dedicated to promoting volunteer service.

To win in Georgia she'll need to benefit from a prolonged GOP primary battle that leaves the Republican bruised and battered.

Scott Walker

Yes, Walker is a known commodity by now after taking on Wisconsin's public-sector unions and surviving a bitterly fought recall election. It catapulted his status to conservative hero and frequently mentioned 2016 presidential candidate.

But before he can go fishing for votes in Iowa, New Hampshire and beyond, he needs to win again in Wisconsin. Recent polls show the Badger State race is close, and Walker will need to spend 2014 focusing on his own state before he can look beyond its borders.

If Walker can survive his third statewide election in a state President Obama won by nearly six points in 2012, however, he will solidify his place as a top-tier GOP presidential candidate.

Scott Brown

After losing his tough-fought Senate re-election campaign in Massachusetts to Elizabeth Warren, Scott Brown may be preparing for another run -- in New Hampshire. The former Bay State senator has been traveling around New Hampshire talking to voters and fueling speculation that he may mount a challenge to Granite State Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Brown is even reportedly selling his Massachusetts home and moving to New Hampshire.

If he does decide to run, he'll have to overcome the carpet-bagger attacks, including his recent tongue slip mixing up the two states and traversing New Hampshire in his truck with Massachusetts plates.

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