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A Very Early Edu-Look at the 2014 Midterm Elections

By Alyson Klein — November 11, 2013 3 min read
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So now that Election Day 2013 is behind us, we can all turn our attention to ... Election Day 2014! After all, it’s only a year away. Here’s your very, very early cheat sheet of which congressional races could matter in the general election.

U.S. Senate: Larry Sabato, the University of Virginia’s top political prognosticator, has just two races listed as toss-ups in the most recent edition of his “Crystal Ball” (a tracking site for national politics). They include the Senate race in Alaska, a red state where Democratic Sen. Mark Begich is trying to hang on to his seat. Begich has an interest in rural education, and he has introduced bills to continue the Investing in Innovation grant program, and to encourage counselors to think outside the four-year-college box when advising students on their career pathways.

The other toss-up race? Arkansas, where Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., is seeking re-election. The National Education Association is already running ads criticizing his potential GOP opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, for trying to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act by shutting down the government.

U.S. House Democrats: Is anyone on the House education committee considered vulnerable, in Sabato’s estimation? Yup. On the Democratic side, Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., who has been on the panel practically forever and was an early fan of national standards, has run into some ethical trouble, for failing to disclose money his wife earned from gambling proceeds. He’s facing a primary challenge from a Marine veteran, Seth Moulton.

Other endangered Democratic members include Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., a former college provost and higher education policy fan. (Bishop, who won his last election by just 4 points, represents a swing area and is perennially on the GOP target list.)

And on the House GOP side: Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., the former committee chairman who had a long record of working across the aisle with Democrats (back when cross-aisle cooperation was actually cool), Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Minn., who Sabato says may be too conservative for his district, and Rep. Joe Heck. R-Nev., a dual-enrollment fan.

Plus, there’s Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the education committee, who represents a moderate district outside the Twin Cities. His race is considered “Lean Republican.” Democrats have also targeted his district, which President Barack Obama narrowly won in 2012. Among other things, Kline’s been criticized for being too cozy with for-profit colleges, which have donated to his campaign. Kline says the money hasn’t had an impact on his views. More from USA Today here. Minnesotans are clearly ticket splitters, since Kline beat his Democratic opponent, Mike Obermuller, a former state legislator, by 8 points, 54-46.

Also on the GOP endangered list: Two Republicans who were really helpful to the National Education Association during floor consideration of the recent House ESEA bill: Rep. Chris Gibson of New York, who helped push an amendment for staggered testing, and Rep. Mike Grimm, also from the Empire State, who introduced an amendment to bolster collective bargaining. Both lawmakers spoke passionately about these issues. And of course, helping out the NEA is never a bad idea if you’re from a moderate, swing district.

The upshot of the 2014 election? For now, Sabato says, it looks like the House will stay GOP, and the Senate will stay Democratic. Which so far, has been a recipe for gridlock and more gridlock on education and pretty much everything else. But it’s still early, and a lot can change in a year’s time.

Not excited by the midterms? Ready for the presidential election? Sorry, no declared candidates yet. But you can have fun re-schooling yourself on Hillary Clinton’s support of early-childhood education—and check out this 2011 Edweek interview with New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie, now newly re-elected.