Just weeks after 2010 election, Republicans lining up for 2012 Senate races

Now that the 2010 midterm elections are over, tongues have already started wagging over who the potential Republican presidential candidates may be in 2012.
By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 6, 2010; 12:06 AM

The 2012 presidential race may be off to a slow start - not a single Republican has announced his (or her) intentions to run - but aspiring GOP pols are falling all over themselves to get into Senate races nationwide.

Last week, former Missouri state treasurer Sarah Steelman became the latest to make an early leap into the candidate pool when she announced her intention to challenge Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) in nearly two years.

"We need jobs - urgently. We need to balance the budget - urgently," she said. "We have to fight if we're going to save this country for our kids and grandkids. There is no time to wait."

Another factor in Steelman's quick candidacy was the looming presence of Jim Talent (R), who lost his seat to McCaskill in 2006 and has been pondering a rematch ever since. Those close to the former senator say he is likely to decide by January, which, in most other election cycles, would be extremely early to make such intentions known.

Missouri is not the only state where the Senate race is starting fast.

In Nebraska, the state's attorney general, Jon Bruning (R), joined the race against Sen. Ben Nelson (D) just three days - yes, you read that right - after the 2010 election. (Bruning's announcement followed the decision by Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, not to challenge Nelson.)

"Incumbents have incredible built-in advantages, especially when it comes to raising money," Bruning told the Fix regarding his decision to announce so early.

"We will never raise as much money as Senator Nelson but had to get started early to compete."

In Florida, state Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R) is all but in the race against Sen. Bill Nelson (D). He visited Washington last week to make his intentions clear.

The Florida GOP race is already getting testy. Sen. George LeMieux (R) - the outgoing caretaker of the seat vacated by Mel Martinez - is another possible candidate for Nelson's seat. A top aide of LeMieux's drew attention when she tweeted a link to an article that detailed mistakes Haridopolos made when filing his personal financial disclosure forms.

Similar early entrances have begun in Montana, where GOP businessman Steve Daines is challenging Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, and Pennsylvania, where Republican former Senate staffer Marc Scaringi is running against Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr.

In both states, better-known politicians are taking a bit more time to decide on the races. Republican strategists regard Rep. Denny Rehberg as their strongest nominee in Montana, while a cast of thousands - or close to it - is mentioned against Casey.

The profusion of Republican Senate candidates is the result of two main factors.

First, the successes the party experienced during the 2010 elections undoubtedly convinced aspiring GOP pols that their time had come, and they are now quickly moving to reap the rewards - financial and otherwise - of being the first candidate in a race.

Second, more than twice as many Democrats (23) as Republicans (10) are up for reelection in 2012.

That means there are just more targets for ambitious GOP-ers than their Democratic counterparts.

Combine those daunting raw numbers with a political climate in which Republicans are energized, and you begin to grasp the roots of the GOP's bumper recruiting crop.

Too much of a good thing may not be wonderful for the party, however.

More candidates means more primaries and, as the 2010 elections showed, those intraparty squabbles can produce a less-than-desirable nominee - potentially endangering Republicans' chances of maximizing their pickups in November 2012.

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