For the majority of 2012's most competitive governor's races, high-profile recruiting coups mean the Democratic and Republican nominees are more or less etched in, even with Election Day more than a year away. We can already take general election matchups in Washington (Inslee/McKenna) and Indiana (Pence/Gregg), along with anticipated showdowns in North Carolina (McCrory/Perdue) and Missouri (Kinder/Nixon), to the bank.
But that's not the case in Montana, which is also expected to play host to one of next year's most competitive contests.
Former state Transportation Director Jim Lynch is the latest Republican to enter an already crowded GOP field. On the Democratic side, though, Attorney General Steve Bullock is the early favorite in a two-candidate race.
In the Republican contest, former Rep. Rick Hill has the name identification and an early financial edge, but knowledgeable Republicans warn not to sleep on state Senate Majority Leader Jeff Essmann. Then there is a whole host of other candidates, including former state Sen. Ken Miller, who is trying to appeal to conservatives.
The Treasure State may not be the only place featuring a packed field this cycle: Also keep an eye on New Hampshire, where another open seat contest is setting off a multi-candidate scramble on both sides.