Sen. Marco Rubio addresses the New Hampshire Rockingham Committee Freed Founder's Dinner on May 9, 2014.
Scott Eisen—Getty Images
November 3, 2014 5:36 PM EST

Wednesday marks the official start of the 2016 election, but that doesn’t mean Tuesday’s midterm elections don’t matter to the presidential race.

Here are five races to watch and what they mean for the next battle for the White House.

Iowa Senate

Recent polling shows Joni Ernst pulling away from Rep. Bruce Braley for the state’s open Senate seat, and a win would instantly propel Ernst into the role of power-broker in the first-in-the-nation caucus state. Ernst has been aided by a who’s who roster of Republican presidential hopefuls in recent months, from Texas Gov. Rick Perry to Sen. Ted Cruz. But Sen. Marco Rubio may be the big beneficiary of her win. Rubio endorsed Ernst while she was locked in a tight primary battle this May, a move that helped bring her national attention and donors. Rubio’s press secretary, Alex Conant, has been on leave from Rubio’s Senate office for more than a month to assist Ernst’s campaign in Iowa.

Florida Governor

It’s Florida, after all. Tuesday’s gubernatorial slugfest is one of this year’s closest—and most expensive—nail-biters. A victory for Rick Scott or Charlie Crist means control of a perennial swing state, and one that has already decided a close presidential contest.

Wisconsin Governor

Scott Walker has been a favorite of the GOP’s conservative base since his effort to rewrite his state’s collective bargaining laws and became a cause célèbre when Democrats attempted to recall him in 2012. Now Walker is fighting once again to retain his seat. Recent polls show him edging ahead of Democrat Mary Burke after a bitter and expensive campaign. If Walker loses, his 2016 hopes were little more than putting the cart before the horse. If he wins, he will have to decide whether he’s ready for an even more grueling experience.

Ohio Governor

John Kasich is on his way to a re-election rout in the Buckeye State this week, leading well into the double digits in the swingiest of swing states. His political rebound, after contentious efforts to reform the state’s collective bargaining laws and expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, makes the margin all the more remarkable. Kasich’s victory is sure to ignite calls for him to seriously consider a run for the White House in 2016. It would be the former House Budget Committee Chair’s second run, following a short-lived effort in 2000.

Colorado

The state’s Senate and gubernatorial races have razor-thin margins in polls, but Republicans have the momentum going into Election Day. Rep. Cory Gardner appears to have successfully handled off Sen. Mark Udall’s “war on women”-themed attacks, providing a model for other Republican candidates and exposing Democratic weakness in the Rockies. Colorado will be a central battleground in 2016, especially if a swing-state Republican wins the GOP nomination, and GOP gains could signal trouble for Democrats in two years.

More Must-Read Stories From TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com.

Read More From TIME
You May Also Like
EDIT POST