Jackie Gingrich Cushman

It's an off-year election, and the White House is securely in the Democratic camp for two more years. That means the focus is turning instead to down-ballot races.

In the House of Representatives, all 435 members are up for reelection. The current split is 233 Republicans, 199 Democrats and three vacancies, and the House is projected to remain a Republican stronghold. While there might be some momentary excitement on the individual race level (i.e., the recent primary defeat of Rep. Eric Cantor in Virginia), the real excitement concerns the Senate, where power could shift.

Of the 100 Senate seats, 36 seats are up for election, 21 of them Democratic and 15 Republican.

Eight of them -- Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana and North Carolina -- are tossups. According to Real Clear Politics, Georgia and Iowa are open seats, i.e., no incumbent is running, and they were previously held by a Republican and a Democrat respectively. The other states, with the exception of Kentucky, where the seat is held by Republican Minority leader Mitch McConnell, are held by Democrats. With the Senate currently split 53 Democratic, 45 Republican and two independents, a shift to a majority Republican Senate became more probable after this week's primary.

What is at stake is less about local or state politics and more about the national stage.

Three primaries held this week shed light on the national mood. In Mississippi, six-term Republican Sen. Thad Cochran ran against State Sen. Chris McDaniel, who was championed by the tea party. McDaniel had received 1,418 more votes than Cochran in the primary and was attempting to vilify the incumbent as an establishment insider. In the past few days, a number of national figures have joined the fray, endorsing one or the other candidate: Former Sen. Rick Santorum campaigned for McDaniel and Sen. John McCain campaigned for Cochran. While McDaniel focused on the right, Cochran focused on the middle -- independents and crossover Democrats.

Cochran won the runoff 51 percent versus 49 percent. This kept the state in the likely GOP column. A win by McDaniel would have left space for the Democratic nominee, former Rep. Travis Childers, to appeal to the middle and potentially capture the seat.

In Oklahoma, two candidates were competing in the primary to replace Sen. Tom Coburn; a Republican who is retiring: Rep. James Lankford; and former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon.

Shannon, part Native American and part African-American, was backed by the tea party and championed by Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.