With less than 16 months to go, the National Republican Senatorial Committee sees opportunities in a laundry list of states that grows longer with each recruit.
Former Rep. Pete Hoekstraís (R) decision this week to challenge Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) keeps Michigan in the competitive category right when it seemed as if the Senator was cruising. The states to watch are Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Virginia and Wisconsin. Outside groups and the party committees have already turned their attention to Democratic incumbents there and have emphasized recruiting.
Democratsí weak bench in North Dakota means the stateís open seat is already considered the partyís first casualty of the 2012 cycle.
Because Republicans need to pick up four seats to take the Senate majority, they are in a strong position this early in the cycle. The GOP has a wide field of states in play, thanks to Democratic gains in the 2006 elections.
Throw in West Virginia, where Sen. Joe Manchin (D) is running for a full term but has yet to see an opponent step up, and Hawaii, where the GOP is awaiting a decision from former Gov. Linda Lingle (R), and there are pathways aplenty to 51 seats come January 2013. Doing so, however, might require Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) to win full terms in states that President Barack Obama carried by double-digit margins.
Roll Call Politics shifted the Senate race ratings after fundraising reports landed for the second quarter, as several incumbents appear safer now than they were at the beginning of the year. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D) moves from the Tossup category to Leans Democratic.
There is a final category below that reflects the political mood of the nation: competitive GOP primaries.
Senate seats in Indiana, Texas and Utah are highly likely to remain represented by Republicans in January 2013. But each will first see an intraparty battle. In Indiana and Utah, longtime GOP Sens. Dick Lugar and Orrin Hatch, respectively, are on the ropes and being accused by conservative groups of being too moderate. Lugar, 79, and Hatch, 77, say they saw what happened in the 2010 Republican primaries and arenít taking their challenges for granted. They have been playing defense for months.
Texas is a bit different, with Republicans confident they will easily hold the seat. But before the party can focus on that general election matchup, the candidates can expect a Wild West-style GOP primary.