Democrats' best chance of gaining seats in 2014 will come in the landscape of governor's races.
While the Democratic Senate majority looks very fragile, and House Republicans are bullish on the prospect of making pickups, the gubernatorial landscape is ripe with opportunity for Democrats.
In our first set of 2014 rankings, nine of the top 15 races likeliest to flip are under Republican control, including the top three races on the board. In total, there are 36 governor's races, 22 Republican seats and 14 Democratic seats.
Republican donors are well aware of the task in front of them and have not been shy about opening their wallets. The Republican Governors Association nearly doubled the Democratic Governors Association's 2013 haul; Gov. Scott Walker (R) raised more than $5 million in the last half of 2013; and Gov. Rick Scott (R) is hauling in big money in Florida.
Even in the races most likely to flip, there are no sure things at this point. So buckle up.
And now, to our list of the 15 seats most likely to change party control. As always, No. 1 is most likely to flip. Kansas comes off while Georgia moves on for the first time.
To the Line!
15. Georgia (Republican-controlled): Gov. Nathan Deal (R) makes his first appearance on our list this cycle after a very rough week. He apologized and took responsibility for a widely panned response to a winter storm that slammed Atlanta. (Voters remember weather-related snafus.) While Deal still stands a good chance of winning a second term, his race is worth watching. State Sen. Jason Carter (D) -- grandson of Jimmy Carter -- raised over $1 million in about seven weeks. Deal, meanwhile faces a primary. (Previous ranking: N/A)
14. Minnesota (Democratic-controlled): Here's a new concept: Gov. Mark Dayton (D) raising money from donors. Dayton, who has mostly self-funded in his career, raised more than $1 million. That's nearly as much as the entire Republican field combined, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune notes. (Previous ranking: 14)
13. Massachusetts (D): Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) continues to be the front-runner in this race, a position with which she is familiar from her 2010 Senate campaign. Democrats are hoping things end up differently this time, since she was upset by Scott Brown (R) after a series of missteps. The likely Republican nominee here is Charlie Baker, the GOP's 2010 candidate. (Previous ranking: 13)
12. Arizona (R): Steven Seagal -- yes that Steven Seagal -- recently said he was considering running. But don't hold your breath: He's promoting a new reality show and may not even meet the residency requirements. The Republican field could go crowded here, assuming Gov. Jan Brewer (R) doesn't try to challenge the state's term limit law. Secretary of State Ken Bennett (R) looks to have the early inside track, limited polling shows. But Treasurer Doug Ducey (R) has a financial leg up on him. Meanwhile, in a play for moderates up for grabs, Democratic candidate Fred DuVal defended Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) after he was censured by the state GOP for not being conservative enough in their view. Bottom line: This is a red state, and Democrats face long odds. (Previous ranking: 12)
11. Connecticut (D): It's official: 2010 Republican nominee Tom Foley announced this week that he will run again, setting the stage for a potential rematch against Gov. Dan Malloy (D), whose numbers have not been great. Foley is expected to advance to the general election, but it's worth bearing in mind that he faces a primary. (Previous ranking: 11)
10. Wisconsin (R): A recent Marquette Law School poll -- the gold standard in Wisconsin -- showed Walker leading Democrat Mary Burke 47 percent to 41 percent. While Burke has put up good fundraising numbers, Walker is a financial juggernaut in his own right. Keep an eye on this race. It could become more competitive as the year goes on, but the onus will be on Burke, as Walker is a battle-tested campaigner who survived a recall effort. (Previous ranking: 10)
9. Colorado (D): 2013 was not kind to Gov. John Hickenlooper (D). He's hoping for a bounce-back in 2014. The relatively weak Republican field populated by Secretary of State Scott Gessler and former congressman Tom Tancredo is just what he needs. (Previous ranking: 9)
8. Ohio (R): Keep an eye on campaign finance reports that must be filed in this race by the end of Friday. One of the big question marks surrounding Cuyahoga County Executive Ed Fitzgerald (D) is whether he can close the gap with Gov. John Kasich (R) in the money chase. If Kasich wins reelection, expect to hear more talk about the prospect of him running for president in 2016. (Previous ranking: 8)
7. South Carolina (R): Here's a race where Democrats have done the right things but the conservative tilt of the state may be too much to overcome. Republican Gov. Nikki Haley's numbers have not been great, and state Sen. Vincent Sheheen (D) has run a steady campaign in his second straight try for the governor's mansion. But South Carolina is very conservative. And that tilts this race toward Haley. (Previous ranking: 7)
6. Michigan (R): The DGA hit the airwaves here this week, signaling its intention to make unseating Gov. Rick Snyder (R) a priority. But it wasn't helpful to likely Democratic nominee Mark Scahuer when a report said United Auto Workers President Bob King tried to coax Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D) to reconsider a run. (Previous ranking: 6)
5. Illinois (D): Gov. Pat Quinn (D) could go down as one of the most memorable political survival stories if he finds a way to win a second term despite being very unpopular. It helps him that a heated GOP primary is underway. If businessman Bruce Rauner wins the GOP nomination, look for Democrats to wage attacks against him similar to the ones they lobbed at Mitt Romney. (Previous ranking: 5)
4. Arkansas (D): Former congressman Mike Ross (D) is setting fundraising records and lapping the GOP competition in the money chase. But his challenge is similar to Sheheen's in South Carolina: Arkansas has grown substantially more conservative in recent years. His probable general election opponent in this open race is former congressman Asa Hutchinson (R). But Hutchinson must first get past Curtis Coleman and Debra Hobbs in the primary. Arkansas moves down the Line only because Florida moves up. More on that below. (Previous ranking: 3)
3. Florida (R): After a rocky period, Democrat Charlie Crist has steadied the ship. He's signed on former Obama hands like Jim Messina, he appears to have found a new campaign manager, and a recent Quinnipiac University poll showed him leading Gov. Rick Scott by eight points. This is shaping up as the nastiest and most expensive governor's race of the cycle. (Previous ranking: 4)
2. Maine (R): The prospect of a three-way race is what's keeping hope alive for unpopular Gov. Paul LePage (R). The big question is how much support independent candidate Eliot Cutler will pull from Rep. Mike Michaud (D). Cutler's field director recently parted ways with his campaign, raising questions about the stability of his operation. (Previous ranking: 2)
1. Pennsylvania (R): Gov. Tom Corbett (R) is still the most vulnerable governor in America. A Franklin and Marshall College poll out this week showed only 23 percent of voters said Corbett has performed well enough to deserve a second term. But the most interesting developments in this race have been on the Democratic side, where Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D) cut ties with moderate groups in an apparent effort to protect her left flank, well-funded former state revenue secretary Tom Wolf and former Rendell administration official Katie McGinty hit the airwaves (McGinty's buy was small), and Treasurer Rob McCord landed a union endorsement. A costly and competitive Democratic race no doubt helps Corbett, but it probably would not be enough on its own to save him. (Previous ranking: 1)