Some of this cycle's most pivotal open-seat Senate races could be heavily influenced by what members of the House decide to do:
* In Iowa, where Rep. Bruce Braley (D) is already a Senate candidate, Republican strategists have a close eye on what Reps. Steve King and Tom Latham will decide to do. King's outspoken and controversial style has already stoked some Republican worry that he'd doom GOP chances of picking up retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin's seat.
* In Georgia, Rep. Paul Broun, an outspoken Republican who, like King, has a knack for stoking controversy, has already entered the race, while a second GOP member of the delegation, Rep. Phil Gingrey, appears poised to make a bid. Republican Reps. Tom Price and and Jack Kingston also remain possibilities. But the most interesting member of the delegation is Democratic Rep. John Barrow, the conservative Democrat who looks like his party's best hope for seriously competing in the Peach State. Barrow faces a potentially challenging reelection campaign in a conservative district, which could spur him to make a Senate bid.
* In West Virginia, Democrats are looking for a candidate to fill retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller's spot, and a recent GOP poll showed Rep. Nick Rahall would be the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, if he runs. The GOP frontrunner in the race — Shelley Moore Capito — is also a current member of the House.
In general, the House is a natural springboard to the Senate, with members often looking to move up and campaign committees and donors often looking to the lower chamber for recruits. At the start of the 112th Congress, 49 senators had previous House experience, according to CQ-Roll Call member profiles. This cycle, those who may be looking to move up are playing an especially influential role.
Below is our latest rundown of the top 10 Senate races of the cycle, ranked as usual from the safest — No. 10 — to the most in danger — No. 1.
To the Line!
10. Minnesota (Democratic-controlled)/Georgia (Republican-controlled): We couldn’t decide between these two for the 10th spot on this list, so we made it a tie. Georgia is more red than Minnesota is blue, but Georgia is also an open seat race, where anything can happen, and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has pretty good numbers. The one uniting characteristic of these two races is that there will be a heavy onus on the opposition party to recruit a quality challenger. For Georgia Democrats, that’s likely Barrow. For Minnesota Republicans, that’s likely either Rep. Erik Paulsen or Rep. John Kline. Whether those guys run will say a lot about the competitiveness of these races. (Previous ranking: 9/NA)
9. Kentucky (R): The biggest question in this race remains whether Ashley Judd will run. She reportedly met with national Democratic officials this week, suggesting that she is seriously weighing a challenge to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R). Judd would be a liberal Democrat running in a Republican state, which would give the GOP a lot of fodder to work with. Then again, McConnell has his own problems, including some very troubling polling numbers. (Previous ranking: 8)
8: Montana (D): The most intriguing moment in this race came recently when former governor Brian Schweitzer (D) saw fit to post to his Facebook page a link to a poll showing him leading Sen. Max Baucus (D) in a primary. But we wouldn't read too much into that. After all, Schweitzer and Baucus have a notoriously tepid relationship, and Schweitzer has made pretty clear he doesn’t relish the idea of being a senator (president, instead?). The funny thing is, the popular Schweitzer would probably be a stronger nominee than Baucus, who has seen his numbers improve but would still be vulnerable to a strong GOP challenger. (Previous ranking: 7)
7. Iowa (D): The Hawkeye State comes on to the line following Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin's retirement announcement. Republican chances instantly looked more promising after Harkin decided not to run for reelection, but since that time, Democrats have gotten their house in order, while Republicans may be looking at another tough primary. Braley's decision to run gives his party a top recruit with a strong ability to raise money. On the GOP side, all eyes are on King, a potential candidate whose conservative, outspoken style could keep GOP strategists up at night if he is the nominee. If Republicans can convince Latham to jump into this race, they'd have a competitive chance of winning the seat. But if King — who sounds like he is seriously considering running — were to defeat Latham in a primary, Democrats would be the favorites in the general election. (Previous ranking: N/A)
6. Arkansas (D): Sen. Mark Pryor (D) will get a hand from Bill Clinton at his campaign kickoff event next month. He'll need it in this increasingly Republican state. It looks like Lt. Gov. Mark Darr (R) will make a bid, and another potential candidate to watch is Tom Cotton, the freshman congressman and Iraq war veteran who conservatives really like. (Previous ranking: 6)
5. Louisiana (D): Rep. Charles Boustany (R) this week became the latest Republican to throw his name into the ring of potential challengers to Sen. Mary Landrieu (D). At this point, it seems likely that multiple big-name Republicans will jump into the race, up to and including Reps. Bill Cassidy and John Fleming and former congressman Jeff Landry. The question is whether Landrieu runs again. (Update No. 1 on Monday: Landrieu's staff notes that she raised a lot of money in the fourth quarter -- $1 million -- and that she has said she plans to seek reelection.) (Update No. 2 on Tuesday: Landrieu herself gets on the phone to make clear: "I am definitely running for reelection.") If she does and Republicans have many contenders who battle it out in the state’s jungle primary, Democrats have a better shot of holding this seat. If she retires, Republicans will be heavy favorites in a red state. (Previous ranking: 5)
4. North Carolina (D): This is an example of a race where Republicans can instantly make things interesting by putting up a credible challenger. Recent polling shows voters are split in their opinion of the job Sen. Kay Hagan (D) is doing, in a state where the GOP has built momentum in recent years. A crowded and nasty Republican primary would be just what the doctor ordered for Democrats in this race. (Previous ranking: 4)
3. Alaska (D): The bad news for Republicans is that 2010 nominee Joe Miller is reportedly looking at running again. Miller flopped horribly as a candidate three years ago, alienating many of the states’ voters, including those in his own party. If he does run, there will be a premium on Republicans keeping the field small in order to reduce Miller’s chances of again winning the nomination, on the strength of a plurality of very conservative Republican primary voters. A small field seems somewhat unlikely, though, with Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell already launching an exploratory committee and many other Republicans interested in running. Sen. Mark Begich (D), meanwhile, has pretty decent numbers. (Previous ranking: 3)
2. South Dakota (D): Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) has yet to announce whether he will run for reelection, but all signs point to no. The latest example: Democrats in the state are already trying to recruit his son, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, to run in his place. Former governor Mike Rounds remains the only Republican in the race, and if he’s got a clear primary, it’s hard to see how Republicans won’t be favored in this race – against either of the Johnsons or even former congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D). (Previous ranking: 1)
1. West Virginia (D): A recent GOP poll showed Capito in the driver's seat in this race, leading Rahall by 18 points. It's not clear whether Rahall will run, and the same can be said of a handful of other Democratic prospects. Former senator Carte Goodwin, meanwhile, is the most recent Democrat to rule out a bid. Democrats continue to have a recruiting gap here, and until it becomes clear that the party can put up a formidable candidate, this looks like the GOP's race to lose. (Previous ranking: 2)