Alaska: Mark Begich, D
Sept. 30 cash on hand: $682,000
Still, Begich likely starts the cycle as one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents, and there’s no shortage of Republicans licking their chops at the chance to grab this Senate seat. Before Begich, no Democrat had been elected to the Senate from Alaska since 1968.
GOP insiders in the state said Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and 2010 Senate nominee Joe Miller are making calls and lining up support for potential Senate bids. (After defeating Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the 2010 GOP primary, Miller lost to her in the general election after she chose to run as a write-in candidate.) Former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman and Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan are also viewed as potential Begich challengers, and Gov. Sean Parnell might be interested as well.
“It is far from a finished field,” GOP consultant Art Hackney said.
Arkansas: Mark Pryor, D
Sept. 30 cash on hand: $1,791,000
Democratic operatives in Razorback country don’t expect Pryor to face a primary, giving him room to stake out positions in opposition to Obama, something that would probably be politically prudent. But there’s no question Obama is an albatross for Pryor, as he was for Democrat Blanche Lincoln, who was defeated in 2010 by Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.
Pryor has some real advantages, too, starting with his comfortable war chest and historically strong personal brand that dates back to his father, former Arkansas Gov. and Democratic Sen. David Pryor.
Freshman Republican Rep. Tim Griffin has been talked about as a potential Senate candidate since he was first elected in 2010. GOP Rep. Steve Womack and Rep.-elect Tom Cotton are also seen as potential contenders to take on Pryor.
Louisiana: Mary L. Landrieu, D
Sept. 30 cash on hand: $1,614,000
But the senator comes to the starting line of the cycle with some distinct advantages, too. She has a brand in the state, given her previous runs for statewide office and her father’s tenure as mayor of New Orleans in the 1970s. (Her brother, Mitch Landrieu, is the city’s current mayor.)
And despite voting in favor of the health care overhaul, which is almost certain to haunt her on the campaign trail, Landrieu can reasonably argue that she fights for her state, even if it means bucking the White House or the Democratic Party.
GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy is seen in Louisiana GOP circles as best-suited to challenge and beat the incumbent. He’s viewed as the “consensus candidate,” one Louisiana Republican operative said.
But an X factor could be Republican Rep. Jeff Landry, who is seen as a possible contender as well.
The tea-party-backed lawmaker is locked in a runoff election battle with Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. that will be held Dec. 8.
North Carolina: Kay Hagan, D
Sept. 30 cash on hand: $1,303,000
State Speaker Thom Tillis, lawyer and former Ambassador to Denmark Jim Cain and four-term Rep. Patrick T. McHenry are all top-tier potential challenger candidates.
Other names being floated among GOP insiders are Rep. Renee Ellmers, Rep.-elect George E.B. Holding, Raleigh lawyer Kieran Shanahan and state Sen. Philip Berger. As an aside, the Republican National Committee is scheduled to hold its winter meeting in Charlotte, N.C.
South Dakota: Tim Johnson, D
Sept. 30 cash on hand: $1,222,000
Last week, the Banking chairman declined to talk about his future in an interview with the Mitchell, S.D., Daily Republic. He said: “I’m not done with the lame-duck session yet. There’s plenty of time. Sometime next year.”
The candidacy of former Gov. Mike Rounds, a Republican, might push Johnson to make a decision soon. Rounds announced before Election Day this year that he had launched an exploratory committee to challenge Johnson, and he could launch his bid as early as Thursday.
Johnson is the best candidate to hold this seat, but Democrats have private concerns about his health. In 2006, he suffered bleeding in the brain that put him on leave from the chamber for more than a year.
If Johnson doesn’t run, look for Democrats to recruit former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin for the seat. She recently moved back to the state.
If Rounds declines a bid, Rep. Kristi Noem becomes the GOP’s top candidate. She has accrued several hundred thousand dollars from her House campaigns that could boost her.
West Virginia: Jay Rockefeller, D
Sept. 30 cash on hand: $704,000
He stormed his way to re-election in 2008, winning by nearly 30 points. But West Virginia has been trending Republican on the presidential front, and after shying away in the past, Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito pulled the trigger and announced this week that she would run for Senate.
National Republicans say Capito is the obvious and best choice to win the general election. But the Club for Growth and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., immediately indicated that she did not have their backing.
National Republicans responded privately with groans, fearing she may not get through a Republican primary. That prospect has upset many Republicans — on K Street, on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. GOP operatives say that with her, the seat is winnable.
But if a weak candidate along the lines of Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock or Missouri Rep. Todd Akin were to beat out Capito in a primary, strategists worry any chance to take the seat could slip away like they have seen occur in five states during the previous two cycles.
Republican Rep. David B. McKinley has not ruled out running for the nomination.