Image: U.S. flag surrounded by floating cash © Deborah Harrison, Getty Images

Call them five uneasy pieces.

This year there are five important races investors need to watch.

Who wins and who loses will go a long way toward determining how Wall Street will be regulated, how the Federal Reserve will set policy, and what the tax burden will be for those who depend on trading or investment income.

The Massachusetts Senate race

This is the biggie.

The Bay State showdown -- between incumbent Republican Scott Brown, one of the brightest new stars of the Republican Party, and Elizabeth Warren, the firebrand bailout watchdog who championed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -- has been the only race where Wall Street reform efforts have been a front-and-center issue.

Like Mitt Romney, Brown has been casting himself as a middle-of-the-road politician and trying to paint Warren as too liberal. Warren supporters have been claiming the mantle of the late Ted Kennedy, whose seat Brown took in a 2010 special election. Warren has hammered Brown on his efforts to stop parts of the Dodd-Frank Act, especially the Volcker Rule's limits on bank trading, private equity and hedge-fund activities. If Warren is elected, expect her to get a seat on the Senate Banking Committee.

The bottom line: A Warren victory would signal that an anti-Wall Street campaign can be effective and could be viewed as a mandate for Warren to continue pestering banks.

RealClearPolitics poll average: Warren up by 4.5 points

Momentum: Warren

Texas' 14th Congressional District

Ron Paul announced in 2011 he would not seek re-election to the House, presumably leaving the district to the next Republican in line.

But Republican Randy Weber, who said following Paul was "kind of like being coach after Bear Bryant," hasn't been the shoo-in many predicted despite an endorsement from the man himself (Paul, not the legendary Alabama football coach).

Democrat Nick Lampson, a former congressman who represented part of the 14th before redistricting, has made this race closer than expected. Democrats have targeted Texas’ 14th as a "red-to-blue" race.

The campaign has gone increasingly negative, with each candidate accusing the other of promoting policies that sent jobs overseas. What hasn't come up is Paul's pet issue: the Fed. That doesn't mean monetary policy isn't a concern. Lampson voted against raising the debt limit. Weber has aligned himself with Ted Cruz, a Republican nominee for an open Texas U.S. Senate and Tea Party favorite. Still, if Weber loses, it wouldn't be a huge blow to Paul, who was snubbed at the party's national convention.

The bottom line: A loss by Weber would be more evidence that Paul's influence either has been overstated or has diminished significantly.

Election Projection data: Weber up by 3 points.

Momentum: Lampson

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California's 43rd Congressional District

With Barney Frank's exit as both a Massachusetts U.S. representative and as ranking member on the House Financial Services Committee, Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters would appear to be next in line on the panel.

Waters has been tough on the banks. She sponsored the 2008 Neighborhood Stabilization Act, which authorizes a $15 billion federal grant-and-loan program to help state and local governments purchase, rehabilitate and resell or rent foreclosed homes.

To keep up pressure, however, she must carry the newly redrawn district she's running in, California's 43rd. Despite her popularity, redistricting, an ethics investigation and longstanding allegations of conflicts of interest and corruption have stoked fears that could derail Waters' future in Congress. In September, Waters was absolved of charges she lobbied for bailout funds for a bank affiliated with her husband. She's expected to hold her seat. If she loses, the ranking Democratic committeemember would be Carolyn Maloney of New York.

The bottom line: Exonerated on ethics charges, Waters will move up as ranking minority member of the House Financial Services Committee.

Election Projection data: Noncompetitive race, Waters favored

Momentum: It's over.

The Ohio Senate race

Incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, has emerged as one of the biggest threats to Wall Street since the financial crisis.

He introduced legislation to break up the big banks and reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, a Depression-era law that separated investment banking and commercial banking. "It's time for those who profess the virtues of the 'free market' to put their equity where their mouth is. That means an end to the government guarantees," Brown argued.

It's a view that hasn't gone over very well with the big banks. They have spent heavily through political action committees and other donations to rival Josh Mandel, 33. He's the state treasurer and one of the fresh young faces of the Republican Party -- even younger and fresher than Brown in Massachusetts.

Mandel and Brown haven't sparred over Brown's break-up-the-banks bill, but Mandel has gone after Brown for voting for the bank bailouts in 2008.

The bottom line: The Democratic majority in the Senate and Brown's future in Washington will almost certainly set the tone on further changes to the banking industry.

RealClearPolitics poll : Brown by 5.2 points

Momentum: Mandel

Romney vs. Obama for president

Last but not least, this race for president has been rare in that it offers two different visions on how investment income would be treated.

The incumbent believes that investments should be encouraged through lower taxes when they are made by lower-income and middle-class Americans. The challenger believes that those incentives, mainly through lower taxes, should be applied to everyone including the wealthy and super-wealthy, whom Romney and his team refer to as "job creators."

Though neither side has been specific, it's fairly clear that in a second term, President Barack Obama would seek to end the Bush-era tax cuts for those making more than $250,000. Romney not only wouldn't raise those rates, he would lower taxes in all brackets while eliminating some exemptions and deductions -- except for those on investments.

It's pretty clear that those who make their living as investors would have a better chance of keeping their profits under Romney. But there is a risk. Those gains could be significantly offset if a President Romney tried to eliminate mortgage-interest deductions or state and local tax deductions.

The bottom line: Tax policy is the big kahuna for investors. Romney is clearly the better choice if you want to keep what you make. But if you're worried about the deficit, there are legitimate questions about whether we can afford those breaks.

RealClearPolitics poll average: Too close to call

Momentum: Undecided

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