Unexpected battlegrounds: A look at five key races in unlikely places

WASHINGTON — Two weeks before Election Day, there are close and crucial races in unlikely places.

Count these among the surprises in this year’s midterms: Democratic hopes of winning control of the House wind through ruby-red Kansas. Republicans are stretching to pick up a Senate seat in New Jersey, a state so blue that Donald Trump lost it by double digits two years ago. And South Dakota, which hasn’t elected a Democrat as governor in four decades, just might this time.

They are a reminder that the fierce red v. blue divide in American politics doesn’t override every other consideration, including the quality of individual candidates and the power of particular issues. They reflect the profusion of groundbreaking contenders this year, with contests that may elect the first native American woman to Congress and the first African American woman as governor.

And the results could have major repercussions as newly elected officials vote on House investigations of the Trump administration, confirm judicial appointments in the Senate, oversee redistricting after the 2020 Census in statehouses — and have the chance to make partisan inroads in challenging territory. 

“Handicappers think that we know the voters, understand campaigns and can pick winners and losers,” said Stuart Rothenberg, a veteran political analyst with the nonpartisan Inside Elections. “But there always seem to be some surprises, even in a wave election. Donald Trump’s election should have taught us to expect the unexpected from time to time.”

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