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It's that time of the year again when campaigns beg for your money with increased frequency as the end of the quarter nears on June 30th. Candidates are beginning to run ads now and although we're still 4 and 1/2 months away from election day, there's no better time for you to choose which Democratic candidates to donate your limited campaign contributions to for 2014. Why is it better to donate early? Fundraising displays viability to other donors, early ad buys lock in lower rates, and the sooner a Democratic candidate can define themselves the harder it is for their Republican candidate to do so.

Here at Daily Kos we have long regarded ourselves as a reality-based community with the goal of electing more and better Democrats. While those two priorities can often be at odds, this diary aims to reconcile the two by trying to pragmatically determine where your donations will go the furthest towards moving the country as a whole to the left. Even if you only chip in $10 your contribution will still be valuable as Democrats rely heavily on small donors to help compete with the Koch brothers and other big money donors on the right in the wake of Citizens United. So follow me over the fold for a quick list of the most worthwhile campaigns to donate to in 2014.

Retaining the Senate

Given how gerrymandered the US House is, keeping control of the senate should be our very highest priority. Here are the five most effective candidates to contribute to for 2014.
#1 Mark Begich (Alaska - Incumbent) - Race Rating: Tossup
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Senator Mark Begich narrowly won in the 2008 wave when a perfect storm arose and his opponent was covicted on a corruption charge a week before the election. Since then senator Begich has been a consistent vote for all of President Obama's big priorities such as Health Care Reform, Financial Reform, Immigration Reform, the Stimulus, etc, etc. All of this comes from one of the, though not most conservative states, certainly one of the least Democratic states in the country in Alaska. A huge factor in my emphasizing donating to Begich is just how dirt cheap Alaska is. With just 250,000 voters and only one sizable media market, your dollars in Alaska will go so much further then they would to candidates in bigger states simply due to the sheer smallness of Alaska. If Republicans are to retake the senate in 2014, Alaska is at the front line of our defense. Begich was officially endorsed by DailyKos in his initial 2008 run.
#2 Mary Landrieu (Louisiana - Incumbent) - Tossup
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Mary Landrieu is, like Mark Begich, an instrumental player on the Democratic team. Despite representing a very conservative state she has been there for us on most of the big votes such as Health Care Reform, Dodd-Frank, Gun-Control, and Immigration Reform. This is Louisiana, a state that went for Romney by 17% so it shouldn't come as a shocker that she defects on certain issues such as fossil fuels when the oil industry dominates parts of the Louisiana economy. Still, Landrieu is the only Democrat in the Deep South who represents a Romney district who is pro-choice. That should be reason enough to contribute to her reelection as a profile in courage, but in addition to women's rights she's been a consistent vote for us on most issues and is a solid vote for majority leader Harry Reid and supreme court nominations. Senator Landrieu faces a strong opponent in party-line Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy and is a very worthy endorsement and definitely worth your campaign donations. When Democrats pass big ticket agenda items, Landrieu will be there to have our backs despite coming from one of the most conservative states in the country. If you want to talk about the 50 state strategy, it begins in races like this.
#3 Kay Hagan (North Carolina - Incumbent) - Tossup
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Senator Hagan is facing her first reelection in a state that Mitt Romney narrowly won. Unlike the first two senators, Kay Hagan has been a completely reliable vote on all key legislation since her 2008 election yet all the while has maintained a moderate image and decent approvals despite an onslaught of unanswered early attack ads. Super PACs linked to the Kochs brothers and other Republicans have already spent well over $12 million to defeat her and this is an expensive state, but it is critical that we hold this seat if we want to hold the senate after 2014. Hagan will continue to vote with Democrats on all of our big priorities such as immigration reform, efforts to combat climate change, ensuring fairer taxation, etc, and as such she is the most liberal senator whom I'm endorsing for you to contribute to (because thankfully the more liberal incumbents are safer). If that doesn't convince you, her opponent state house speaker Thom Tillis is very far to the right, having presided over an out of control legislature that has gutted education spending, shifted the tax burden from the rich to the poor, supports lowering the minimum wage, and believes states can ban contraceptives among other things.
#4 Alison Lundergan Grimes (Kentucky - Challenger) - Lean R
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Kentucky secretary of state Alison Lundergan Grimes is taking on public enemy number one in the senate, minority leader Mitch McConnell who more than anyone else has done the most damage stifling the Democratic agenda and economic recovery during Obama's presidency. Grimes has already been a fundraising powerhouse and Kentucky is not a very expensive state, but this race ranks lower among the senate elections because it will be a money pit, yet still worthwhile. Kentucky voted for Mitt Romney by 23% but has a longstanding Democratic tradition locally. Unfortunately that requires candidates like Grimes to support the conservative position on coal and climate, but aside from that she will be a solid moderate Democrat supportive of Obamacare, progressive economic reform, abortion and women's rights, and Democratic supreme court nominees. That she would take out the truly despicable Mitch McConnell, who is one of the nation's most unpopular senators, is just icing on the cake. Recent polls have all shown Grimes competitive with him if not leading even though Mitch has already spent millions.
#4 John Walsh (Montana - Incumbent) - Lean R
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Longtime incumbent Senator Max Baucus announced his retirement since he likely could not win reelection without a dogfight and was appointed ambassador to China earlier this year while then lieutenant governor John walsh was appointed to replace him. Montana is a conservative leaning state where generic Democrats struggle to win federal office, but the party has had great success winning state level office. Yes, I know that Walsh won't be perfect on issues that are more pertinent to rural states such as being anti-gun control or pro-Keystone XL, but there is just no way in hell that you can get elected in a state where Obama got just 40% of the vote by taking the liberal position on those sadly. Unfortunately Walsh's opponent, party-line Republican congressman Steve Daines has been leading by fairly considerable margins in all the recent polls, but I'm not ready to give up on the state just yet. What still makes this small state a great investment is that it will only have about 350,000 voters and like Alaska, it's dirt cheap to advertise in so your contribution dollars will go a lot further here than elsewhere.

Retaking the House

#1 Staci Appel (Iowa's 3rd - Republican Open Seat) - Tossup
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This district opened up with a surprise retirement of a long-time popular Republican incumbent. Former state senator Staci Appel had already raised a respectable amount when incumbent Tom Latham was in the race and has continued to raise a decent amount. Appel is not shy about being a true progressive who will support the Democratic agenda in a swing district, but has also had success at winning a conservative senate district in 2006. Fortunately the Republican was not particularly strong here and the party just nominated former Chuck Grassley staffer David Young at a convention despite his coming nearly in last in the primary. Retaking the house requires us winning Iowa's 3rd where Obama won by the same 4% he did nationally and Appel would be a solid vote for defending healthcare reform and protecting the middle class.
#2 Carol Shea-Porter (New Hampshire's 1st - Incumbent) - Lean D
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Representative Shea-Porter was an unknown, underfunded liberal activist when she pulled off the biggest upset win of 2006 and became a solid liberal vote until her loss in the utter landslide of 2010. However, in part thanks to a flawed and scandal-plagued successor as well as the massive reversal of fortunes in New Hampshire between 2010 and 2012, Shea-Porter was able to post a rather impressive 4% victory last year that exceeded Obama's margin in her district. Despite having to rely in part on the expensive Boston media market, Shea-Porter is definitely deserving of your dollars as someone who has never hid from being a true liberal and one of the very few who has a chance to win and keep winning a swing district. If we're to flip the house this district is a critical hold, but if we're to pass key legislation in the future, reelecting Shea-Porter will help ensure that our majority caucus doesn't have to rely on conservadems like it did after 2008. If that didn't convince you, Shea-Porter was officially endorsed by DailyKos in 2012 with our Orange to Blue program and you can read her questionnaire here.
#3 Aimee Belgard (New Jersey's 3rd - Republican Open Seat) - Tossup
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Along with Iowa's 3rd, this swing district saw a surprise retirement late last year from a popular Republican incumbent. Republicans have nominated a self-funding North Jersey mayor Tom MacArthur while Democrats coalesced around Aimee Belgard who sits on the county council of South Jersey's Burlington County, which is the majority of the district. While Belgard's positions on the issues are not as extensively well-known as politicians with a long voting record, she is a solid supporter of women's rights, would help us protect Obamacare, and fight economic inequality. This seat is critical to gaining the house as one that Obama won twice by about 4% and is one of the few seats Republicans hold that voted for the president.
#4 Ann Callis (Illinois' 13th - Challenger) -Tossup
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Republican Rodney Davis is one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents and this is one of our best pick up opportunities in the entire house and was the single closest Democratic loss in 2012. Unlike that year, when we nominated the underfunded perennial candidate and somewhat too liberal David Gill for this Romney district, this cycle we have a more moderate, yet mainstream Democrat in popular Madison County (which represents a third of the district) former Chief Judge Ann Callis. She was Democrats' top choice in 2012 but demurred that cycle as it looked like popular quasi (thanks to gerrymandering) incumbent Tim Johnson would run for reelection, but eventually he declined soon after the primary. Now his former staffer Rodney Davis is the incumbent and has been a fairly consistent vote for Republicans on all major votes such as reaffirming their support for the far right Ryan Plan for health care. Given how this is a district where Obama fairly significantly underperforms how local Democrats perform, it should be a tossup come election day, particularly for a very strong Democratic candidate and a solidly conservative Republican incumbent. As with other Democratic women running in a swing district, Callis would support Obamacare, be a solid vote on women's issues, and importantly be another vote for speaker Pelosi.
#5 Aaron Woolf (New York's 21st - Democratic Open Seat) - Tossup
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Two-term incumbent Democrat Bill Owens shockingly announced his retirement in January, dealing a blow to Democratic chances of holding this historically Republican seat Obama won by 6%. Republicans look set today to nominate former Bush administration staffer Elise Stefanik who has never held elective office, while Democrats failed to get a single elected officeholder to run in what was thought of for a while as forfeiting the seat. However our candidate Aaron Woolf has surprisingly already raised $400k in his first two months in the race and should hopefully pull in a similar amount for the three-month quarter ending next week, clearly the numbers of a viable candidate. Woolf is a documentary filmmaker of King Corn fame (which is excellent) and will be a solid vote to protect Obamcare, social security and medicare, the middle class, and other mainstream Democratic values.
#6 Gwen Graham (Florida's 2nd - Challenger) - Tossup
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This district requires a moderate in a Democratic challenger but when the House is gerrymandered to hell, this is among the best of the districts that we can do. Here we have a traditionally Blue Dog seat that is nonetheless locally more Democratic downballot than Florida despite a Romney win. Given all this you shouldn't expect a liberal to win, but when the 218th House seat went for Romney by 1.6% let's be reasonable. This seat went for him by around 6% in 2012, but unlike most it favors moderate Democrats a lot more at the local level; for instance Alex Sink won it by 7% in the 2010 disaster and Senator Bill Nelson won it by 11% last year. This seat should be eminently in reach with a Democrat who is (very sadly, this is the Deep South...) white and not named Barack Obama and when Charlie Crist will carry it with ease for governor. Gwen Graham is the daughter of very popular former senator Bob Graham who retired in 2004 after 3 terms. Given how Blue Dog heavy this region is it should be no surprised they've endorsed Gwen Graham, but don't be mistaken this is definitely a worthy seat to contribute and unfortunately one we must win if we want the majority. Graham would be a solid supporter of Obamacare, women's rights, the middle class, and Nancy Pelosi for speaker, much unlike the old large Blue Dog caucus pre-2010.

Retaking the States

#1 Mark Schauer (Michigan Governor - Challenger) - Tossup
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Congress isn't the only place where Democraics candidates can do a lot of good advancing the progressive agenda. Former congressman Mark Schauer is the presumptive nominee to take on first term and modestly unpopular governor Rick Snyder. Republicans have total control of Michigan thanks to a heinous gerrymander even though Democrats won the popular vote there by a wide margin in 2012. With that control they have passed a Right-to-Work for less law aimed at destroying unions, tax cuts for the rich at the expense of the middle class, and a disgusting "emergency manager" law that allows them to circumvent Democratic-held locally elected governments like Detroit and gut public employee pensions. Electing Mark Schauer would give us the all-important veto against their right-wing onslaught and if we're able to take the state legislature would allow us implement a progressive agenda in a state damaged by decades of Republican rule. Furthermore, if Schauer is elected he'll have an incumbency advantage going into 2018 where another win would allow us to block a Republican gerrymander next decade and allow us the chance of passing truly progressive policies in a state of roughly 10 million people. Snyder has a significant fundraising edge of Schauer but local and national Democrats aren't deterred and neither should you be. Schauer has also been endorsed by Daily Kos this year
#2 Nina Turner (Ohio Secretary of State - Challenger) - Tossup/Lean R
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Hands down this is the most important race you haven't heard of. The state secretary of state is Ohio's chief elections-officer and as Democrats were made painfully aware in the 2004 presidential race, can put up serious roadblocks to voting if they're a Republican. Incumbent Jon Husted likes to talk as if he's a reformer, but instead his actions tell another story. Husted has been one of the key players in voter supression in the state by cutting voting hours, limiting poll locations, and in 2012 when there was a ballot initiative to overturn gerrymandered districts in the state he intentionally gave it ridiculously confusing language when it appeared on the ballot. What little polling we have has shown the race competitive and state senator Nina Turner has thus far raised a decent amount. If she were to win in 2014 that would help ensure the critical 2016 presidential race here is fought under fair terms and if Turner were reelected in 2018, all we would need is to win the gubernatorial election that year to have total control over state legislative redistricting next decade. Being a downballot election, your money will go far here and I can't emphasize enough how important this race is.
#3 Lucy Flores (Nevada Lieutenant Governor - Republican Open Seat) - Tossup
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Assemblywoman Flores is a rising star in Nevada Democratic politics and the open lieutenant governors race is the main attraction in Nevada in 2014 as it has turned into a proxy war between senate majority leader Harry Reid and Republican governor Brian Sandoval, who is backing her opponent. With Sandoval absurdly popular and sure to win, a Democratic lieutenant governor would help dissuade him from a 2016 bid for the senate or vice-presidency as it would hand Democrats total control of state government for the first time in 24 years and lead to things like Right to Work repeal. If Flores wins in 2014 she would be in a position to become governor in 2018 when Sandoval is term-limited and would give Democrats control over redistricting, making Republicans largely irrelevant in the state legislature.
#4 Ed FitzGerald (Ohio Governor - Challenger) - Lean R
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Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald is the Democrats nominee for governor against incumbent Republican John Kasich. With a Republican legislature, Kasich has predictably pushed through a Republican vision for the state and although he isn't as rabidly right-wing as other Republican governors that is still unacceptable. FitzGerald is solid on the issues but most importantly, he'll have the veto pen. That's paramount in a state where gerrymandering alone cost Democrats up to 5 US House seats this decade and blocking such a gerrymander if FitzGerald is reelected would be paramount. Additionally, electing FitzGerald along with Nina Turner would give Democrats the ability to gerrymander the state legislature. Unfortunately, Kasich has a decent approval rating and leads in all polling by a modest amount, but being swingy and critical Ohio this is a state worth fighting for and with their endorsement this cycle, Daily Kos agrees.

So please, consider giving $5, $10, $25, $50, or even $100 if you can afford it to one or more of these candidates. They're not all perfect progressives, but these candidates represent some of the most effective uses of your liberal donation dollars in our fight to keep the Senate, take the House, and further the progressive cause nationwide.

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