Republicans may have inched a bit closer to gaining the critical six new seats they need in 2014 to win a majority in the Senate with political developments last week from Arkansas and Michigan.
In Arkansas, Rep. Tom Cotton — one of the GOP's rising stars in Congress — said he would soon announce his bid to run against Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor.
On the same day, sources close to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, put out the word he was mulling a bid for the open seat of Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, who is retiring.
Michigan GOP leaders, from state party chairman Bobby Schostak on down, have long made little secret of their belief that Camp — who has drawn widespread praise for his role in the recent IRS investigation — would be the most formidable candidate against the certain Democratic nominee, Rep. Gary Peters.
An aide close to Camp, who requested anonymity, told Reuters the 60-year-old Midland lawmaker was giving "serious and thoughtful consideration" to a Senate bid.
The current Senate breakdown has 52 seats held by Democrats, two by independents, and 46 by Republicans. But the New Jersey seat of Republican Jeff Chiesa, appointed in June following the death of Democrat Frank Lautenberg, is expected to flip back to Democratic hands following the special election this fall.
Less than two years after his first election to the House, Cotton is, in some polls, running ahead of Pryor, a two-term senator and son of former Democratic governor and senator, David Pryor.
In part, this showing is due to Pryor's votes for Obamacare and for the Obama stimulus package. In addition, Pryor has irked the left of his party by refusing to endorse same-sex marriage and by his vote against legislation requiring background checks for gun purchases.
A decorated U.S. Army Afghanistan veteran and graduate of Harvard Law School, Cotton has gained swatches of publicity with his denunciations of the appointment of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense and his support of National Security Agency surveillance programs.
"Cotton got in because he knows he is going to have all the resources financially he will need," Rex Nelson, Arkansas Democrat Gazette political columnist and blogger, told Newsmax.
Democrats already have begun to snipe at Cotton for running for the Senate after only one term in the House.
But there is precedent for this in Arkansas. In 1944, after only one term in the House, Democrat J. William Fulbright defeated a fellow Democrat, Sen. Hattie Caraway, and went on to become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as well as an early mentor to a young intern named Bill Clinton.
Meanwhile in Michigan, Republicans have long felt that, after 12 terms in the House and now being "termed out" as chairman of the powerful tax-writing committee, Camp would either step down or try to step up.
That speculation now has been further fueled with the talk of a possible Senate bid.
Terri Lynn Land, former Michigan secretary of state and Republican national committeewoman, already is in the Senate sweepstakes and has retained veteran consultant John Yob as her campaign quarterback.
Also considering the race are Holland Mayor Kurt Dykstra and Oakland County Circuit Judge Kim Small, who recently met with officials of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Rep. Justin Amash, who gained widespread publicity for his amendment to defund the NSA, is mentioned, but Michigan GOP sources doubt he will relinquish his Grand Rapids area seat.
With Republican contenders considered better-than-even money to pick up seats of retiring Democratic senators in South Dakota and West Virginia, national GOP operatives already feel confident of adding at least two of the six seats they will need to retake the Senate.
Moreover, Montana Democrats are scrambling for a new candidate for the seat of retiring Sen. Max Baucus after former Gov. Brian Schweitzer opted out of running. Republicans say privately that GOP Rep. Steve Daines soon will declare for the Senate.
Those developments, along with the news from Arkansas and Michigan, make national GOP operatives cautiously optimistic about winning a Senate majority next year.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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