With 435 spots at stake every two years, it can be hard to keep track of all the important House races. After a round of redistricting, experts are still trying to figure out the new political maps and how they might favor one party or the other.
One race to keep a close eye on is Iowa's Fourth Congressional District, which swallowed up the Fifth District (it was contracted out of existence because of a decrease in the state's population). Republican Representative Steve King, a favorite among the Tea Party and former best buddies with Michele Bachmann, is the incumbent in the race. He'll face off against the well-known and respected Christie Vilsack, wife of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack; Tom Vilsack is a former governor of Iowa.
King's old district covered the staunch conservative western edge of the state, and he typically faced off against lukewarm Democratic opponents. That won't be the case this year. His district has been expanded to cover a swath of more independent-minded voters, including the college town of Ames. Vilsack is a tough opponent. She's already raised $1.2 million—around $400,000 more than King—though a Public Policy Polling survey from earlier this year had King up by a slight 49-43 percent. A Vilsack win would mark an important milestone for the state. Iowa is one of only two states that has never elected a woman to the House, Senate, or governorship (Mississippi, bastion of progressivism, is the other).
Vilsack's early strength has already put King in a position he's never faced before: debating an opponent. He's denied requests from past challengers to face off in any debates, but after the filing period for the primary closed last Friday and Vilsack was the only Democrat in the race, King challenged her to a series of six debates over the course of the year. King's wilder proposals and accusations—he's introduced legislation to designate English as the country's official language and once said that increased access to birth control would make America "a dying civilization"—have largely gone unchallenged in his home territory. He won't get that same easy pass this year.