McCaskill defeated Talent by only two percent in 2006 in one of the closest Senate races in the country. McCaskill failed to reach 50 percent in that contest. Talent, an ally of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), appears to have right of first refusal among potential GOP contenders. If he does pass on the race, former state Treasurer and near 2010 Senate contender Sarah Steelman (R) is looking at the race, as is Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder (R) and former Republican National Committeewoman and ambassador to Luxembourg Ann Wagner. http://bit.ly/aoaKIk North Dakota Shuffle: Speaking of potential 2012 contenders, there are three Republicans already considering challenges to Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad in North Dakota, according to local sources. The frontrunner, if he decides to run, would be Lt. Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R), who will become acting governor shortly when Gov. John Hoeven (R) is sworn in to the Senate. Dalrymple is also considering running for a full term as governor, and if he passes on the Senate contest, keep an eye on state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem (R) (reporters: have fun spelling that name all cycle) and Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk (R). Murkowski Maintains: The ballot counting in Alaska continued Thursday, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski's (R) write in campaign appears to be holding its own. More than 45,000 write in ballots have been reviewed so far, and more than 89 percent of them are going unchallenged for Murkowski while about eight percent have been challenged by Republican Joe Miller's camp, according to the Anchorage Daily News. What it means: At this point, Murkowski remains in the driver's seat. Also interesting: Floyd Brown, who had a hand in the infamous "Willie Horton" ad that destroyed Michael Dukakis's 1988 presidential bid, is now on the ground on Alaska and working for Miller. http://bit.ly/aBejLP
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