2012 Essential Races: Grassroots Nominees

The following 10 races were chosen through a process of grassroots nominations submitted by the general public. The most frequently nominated race was New Jersey Assembly District 16, featuring Democrat Marie Corfield. This race received the most grassroots nominations of any in the country, demonstrating an extremely high level of grassroots interest in this race.

In addition to these ten grassroots choices, three other races chosen by the DLCC received so many nominations that they would have also made this list on their own. They are listed separately at the bottom.

For the complete list of Essential races, including races chosen through grassroots nominations, click here. For a list of only the races chosen by DLCC strategists, click here.

Colorado House District 23 -- Max Tyler (Grassroots pick)
Status: Democratic Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: Democratic state Rep. Max Tyler was appointed to this seat in 2009, and his first re-election race in 2010 was a DLCC Essential Races choice that year as well. This year, District 23 is a grassroots selection, likely a reflection of Rep. Tyler’s progressive stances on issues like the civil unions bill that House Republicans recently scuttled, as well as the fact that Tyler is facing an extremely well-funded challenger who could make this race interesting. Nevertheless, this district leans Democratic and should remain in Democratic hands in a presidential election year. A loss by Tyler won’t put a House majority out of reach for Democrats, but it would suggest the road to that majority is tougher than many initially thought.

Colorado Senate District 26 -- Linda Newell (Grassroots pick)
Status: Democratic Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: Democrat Linda Newell’s race for state Senate in 2008 was also a grassroots Essential Races pick, and it lived up to its billing – Newell won by fewer than 200 votes out of more than 60,000 cast. This year’s race is shaping up to be equally close, with now-Senator Newell facing a well-financed GOP opponent in this suburban swing district that became just a point or two more Democratic during redistricting. It’s clear that any Republican road to a Colorado Senate majority runs through districts like this one, where they’ll need to defeat Democratic incumbents with moderate profiles like Newell’s, and that makes Senate District 26 a top bellwether race.

Florida House District 30 -- Karen Castor Dentel (Grassroots pick)
Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: This Orlando-based district is one example of the havoc wrought by a recent ballot measure meant to outlaw political gerrymandering: a GOP incumbent’s safely-gerrymandered district has been transformed into a true tossup. If teacher and working mother Karen Castor Dentel can capture this seat for the Democrats, it may suggest a level of volatility in other districts that owe their competitiveness to the new redistricting rules.

Illinois House District 62 -- Sam Yingling (Grassroots pick)
Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: Illinois Republicans claim to have a chance to win majorities in both legislative chambers in 2012, but the reality is that a mini GOP wave is unlikely to materialize with Illinois’ own Barack Obama leading the ticket. House District 62, in fact, might tell us whether the opposite is true: if Illinois’ political climate proves more favorable to Democrats in 2012 than it was two years ago, the change could manifest itself in a win by Democratic small business owner and Avon Township Supervisor Sam Yingling, who’s running in a suburban swing district in Lake County.

Maine Senate District 25 -- Colleen Lachowicz (Grassroots pick)
Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: This race received the second-most grassroots nominations of any in the country. As a trained social worker and the director of a school-based counseling program in Kennebec County, Democrat Colleen Lachowicz would probably agree that everyone needs some kind of outlet for the frustrations of everyday life. Hers is World of Warcraft, a popular online fantasy game, and it’s so far earned her a GOP-sponsored attack website, mailers to most of the voters in her district, and a wall-to-wall GOP media blitz – all focused entirely on attacking Lachowicz for being a gamer. It remains to be seen whether their strategy will be effective, but one thing’s for sure: Republicans have succeeded in making Senate District 25 perhaps the most nationally-watched legislative race in the country right now.

Michigan House District 63 -- Bill Farmer (Grassroots pick)
Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: House District 63’s “David vs. Goliath” story is probably what made this a Grassroots Essential Race. First-time Democratic nominee Bill Farmer, a former member of the Michigan Works Workforce Development Board, is running in a strongly conservative district against one of the country’s most powerful GOP state legislators: House Speaker and national Republican Legislative Campaign Committee Chair Jase Bolger. Put simply, Farmer shouldn’t stand a chance – but he does, thanks to the same scandal that made District 76 an Essential Race this year: an election-rigging scheme involving Bolger and fellow GOP state Rep. Roy Schmidt. A loss by Bolger would shake up Michigan politics, regardless of the final chamber margin.

New Hampshire House District 39 (Hillsborough) -- Aaron Gill (Grassroots pick)
Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: Unlike the New Hampshire House’s many multi-member House races, Hillsborough District 39 is a one-on-one matchup featuring Democratic community banker and Deering Conservation Commission officer Aaron Gill, who faces an incumbent Republican who moved to the state as part of the so-called Free State Project, which encourages Libertarians to move to New Hampshire in order to remake that state’s government in the image of Libertarian Party ideology. (The project targets New Hampshire, specifically, because of its relatively small electorate.) The outcome of this race could show whether conservative-leaning districts like this one are “in play” for New Hampshire Democrats, as well as whether the Free State Project’s unique brand of conservatism has staying power among normal New Hampshire voters.

New Jersey Assembly District 16 -- Marie Corfield (Grassroots pick)
Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: This race received more grassroots nominations than any other in the country. Teacher and progressive education advocate Marie Corfield became a YouTube sensation in 2010 when her vigorous defense of public schools at a town hall meeting provoked an angry response from GOP Governor Chris Christie and an even angrier stream of abusive emails and Facebook postings attacking Corfield. In part because of that unpleasant incident, Corfield ran for state Assembly in 2011, falling just short of victory in a two-member district. Two days after that election, one of the winning Republicans passed away, triggering the appointment of an interim GOP incumbent who will face Corfield in a special election this year. This is the most competitive of only three New Jersey legislative races this year, so the spotlight is clearly on this race as a predictor of Democratic chances in 2013.

Pennsylvania House District 3 -- Ryan Bizzarro (Grassroots pick)
Status: Democratic Open Seat

Why this Race Matters: House District 3 has already been noted by PoliticsPA as one of the ten most interesting races in the 203-member Pennsylvania House this year. Democratic candidate Ryan Bizzarro brings a lot of “fight” to the race as the grandson of legendary local boxing contender Lou Bizzarro, and he’s well-known in this Erie-based district through experience with the Erie County Industrial Development Board and past work for the local District Attorney and Crime Victim Center. Defending open seats is always a party’s first step toward regaining a majority, and that makes this race one to watch.

Pennsylvania House District 104 -- Chris Dietz (Grassroots pick)
Status: Republican Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: This race received the third-most grassroots nominations of any in the country. House District 104 was almost a bright spot for Democrats in 2010: a conservative-leaning district where, despite the thrashing Democrats took across the country, the GOP incumbent won re-election by just a razor-thin 1.4% margin. A result like that in a year like 2010 almost guaranteed the district would be competitive again this year, and Democrats have turned to engineer and Millersburg Borough Council President Chris Dietz to try to turn this district blue.

DLCC-chosen races also receiving grassroots recognition:

Colorado House District 3 -- Daniel Kagan (Grassroots and DLCC pick)
Status: Democratic Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: Early this year, Democrat Daniel Kagan’s re-election race was #1 on The Colorado Observer’s list of the top ten races to watch in the Colorado Legislature – and with good reason. Rep. Kagan’s safely Democratic district was transformed into a tossup district by a bipartisan panel’s redistricting plan, and Colorado Republicans have fielded a well-financed challenger. And because the new district performed so close to the statewide average in 2010 races, it will be a great indicator of Democrats’ ability to re-take the majority in this chamber.

Ohio House District 28 -- Connie Pillich (Grassroots and DLCC pick)
Status: Democratic Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: State Rep. Connie Pillich’s 2010 race was also named to our Essential Races list that year, and with good reason. Representing a Cincinnati-based district, Pillich was heavily targeted, but she survived in one of the closest legislative races in the country. This year, Republicans targeted Pillich twice: first by heavily gerrymandering her district, and now through heavy spending to support her Tea Party opponent. So if Rep. Pillich survives a second time, that will indicate a good night overall for Ohio House Democrats.

Wisconsin Senate District 18 -- Jessica King (Grassroots and DLCC pick)
Status: Democratic Incumbent

Why this Race Matters: Democratic Senator Jessica King won this seat by a razor-thin margin in the Wisconsin recalls last year, but before the votes in that race were even cast, she was already a target of a Republican gerrymandering scheme that made District 18 significantly more conservative. One factor making this a race to watch is the issue of “recall fatigue:” it’s generally been assumed that Democratic challengers’ performance in the recalls suffered from a small (but significant) block of otherwise Democratic-leaning voters who voted Republican because they oppose recalls in general. The return of those voters could save Senator King and the 1-seat Democratic majority.