National security issues generally don't play a big role in congressional races. But Pentagon spending represents billions of dollars -- and that translates to jobs. In states like Virginia and Maine, that means that defense is a local economic issue that can drive voters and affect the outcome of contests. And even if candidates themselves don't address national security, the departure of the politician they are vying to replace can have repercussions on Capitol Hill. Changes to the make-up of the Senate and House armed services committees could frame the way the Hill grapples with sequester, war planning, and the speed at which the United States leaves Afghanistan. Just as the elections will shake up foreign policy no matter who wins, they're likely to do the same for defense. Here are 8 races to watch:
Senate: Tim Kaine (D) vs. George Allen (R)
No race is as intermeshed with defense issues as the fight for Virginia's Senate seat between Democrat Tim Kaine, who supports cuts to the Pentagon budget, and Republican George Allen, who opposes them. The commonwealth is a major military hub, housing the Atlantic Fleet and other commands in the Norfolk region. The Pentagon also employs hundreds of thousands of federal workers and civilian contractors in Northern Virginia. So nearly every Virginia ad that mentions defense has just one thing in mind: jobs. The proposed cuts in defense spending growth, as well as the automatic cuts looming in January, have led Allen's campaign to warn voters that 200,000 Virginia jobs could be lost if Kaine is elected and President Obama is returned to the White House. The numbers have been criticized as a scare tactic, but it's a real concern for voters -- more than national security, at least. Of course, the top military brass helped craft Obama's defense proposal and Republicans and Democrats in Congress put the cuts into law themselves. That means that, ads aside, it won't be easy for Allen to increase defense spending unless there's also a change in the White House.
What the polls say: Kaine is up 1.8 percent over Allen, according to the Real Clear Politics average.
Senate: Chris Murphy (D) vs. Linda McMahon (R)
Joe Lieberman's seat in Connecticut -- the center of U.S. submarine-building -- is a hot commodity. The state loses a powerful advocate in Lieberman, who holds key defense-related posts in the Senate. He is the second-ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, behind Chairman Carl Levin, of Michigan. Lieberman also chairs the Air Land Subcommittee and is chairman of the full Homeland Security Committee. Now, those posts are up for grabs. The next junior senator from Connecticut will have to fight for the same key defense interests, though, including the submarine base in New London, from a backbench spot. Submarines were one of the few big-ticket weapons the Obama administration put on hold to save taxpayer money, by delaying construction on one of the two submarines being built each year. Mitt Romney has pledged to reverse that decision -- but he would need help from Republicans in the Senate to do it. Connecticut's seat would help.
What the polls say: Murphy is up by 5 points according to the RCP average.