It's that time of year again when election campaigning starts to take up increasingly more of the news cycle. Though few candidates are even running ads and it's still 9 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've 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) - Consensus: Tossup
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Senator Mark Begich narrowly won in the 2008 wave when a perfect storm arose and his opponent was indicted for corruption 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 etc. All of this comes from one of the, though not most conservative states, certainly one of the most Republican 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. Full disclosure: out of the $615 I've donated this cycle the senator received a full $200 because he's that important. If you give to any single candidate on this list, Begich should be your choice.
#2 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 just recently confirmed as ambassador to China. 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 and currently very popular first term governor Steve Bullock just appointed his lieutenant governor and already likely Democratic nominee John Walsh to replace Baucus. 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. 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. While Walsh might quietly vote the NRA-line (or maybe not, you might be surprised) his priorities will be on things like defending Obamacare, a more equitable economic system, and most importantly supporting Harry Reid for majority leader and Democratic supreme court nominees. The Republican road to the senate runs through Montana and a hold here would all but ensure we keep our majority. For the record I have given Walsh $50.
#3 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 fuelsn 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 the issues and is a solid vote for majority leader Harry Reid and supreme court nominations. Her state is roughly 6 times the size of Alaska or Montana so she is my #3, but senator Landrieu, who faces a strong opponent in party-line Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, 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. If Republicans are to take the senate this seat will probably be the most pivotal race in their path to 51. While I have not personally donated to Landrieu due to budget constrains, that doesn't mean you shouldn't.
#4 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 approval ratings. Super PACs linked to the Kochs and other millionaire Republicans have already spent over $7 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). I have given $25 to Hagan and more in previous years.
#5 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 last 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. I have donated $100 to Grimes and in total she has raised nearly $5 million in a state with about 1.3 million midterm voters, demonstrating her campaign chops and McConnell's vulnerability.

Retaking the House

#1 Carol Shea-Porter (New Hampshire's 1st - Incumbent) - Tossup
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Representative Shea-Porter was an unknown, underfunded liberal activist when she pulled off the biggest upset win in 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. I have personally given Shea-Porter $25 this cycle and even more previously.
#2 Staci Appel (Iowa's 3rd - Candidate) - Tossup
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This district recently opened up with a surprise retirement of a long-time popular Republican incumbent. Former state senator Staci Appel is the all but assured Democratic nominee and had already raised a respectable amount when incumbent Tom Latham was in the race. Like Shea-Porter, 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 field is divided and consists of less than ideal candidates, giving us an excellent opportunity here. Retaking the house requires us winning Iowa's 3rd and Appel would be a solid vote for defending healthcare reform and protecting the middle class. I have not given to Appel since I reached my budget limit before this seat became competitive, but like Shea-Porter she is an excellent choice where progressiveness and electability meet.
#3 Aimee Belgard (New Jersey's 3rd - Candidate) - 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. The Republican field is divided and Democrats have coalesced around Aimee Belgard who sits on the county council of Burlington County, which is the majority of the district. While Belgard's positions on the issues are not extensively well-known, 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 and Democrats might even be fortunate enough to face crazy tea partier Steve Lonegan who lost to senator Cory Booker, so Belgard is a great investment to pick up a Republican-held seat.
#4 Gwen Graham (Florida's 2nd - Challenger) - Lean R
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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 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, yet how Gwen Graham herself has not given an indication that she'd be a blue dog herself instead of a more mainstream moderate, 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 and as such I previously donated a small amount to her as I believe this seat is really a Tossup.
#5 Ann Callis (Illinois' 13th - Challenger) - Lean R
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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 moderate, 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 and as such I have previously given her a small contribution.

Bonus: Retaking the States

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.

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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