Now that the calendar has changed, we can begin our midterm-election obsession in earnest. The year is chock-full of great, big-ticket races: Mitch McConnell's reelect in Kentucky, 4 red-state Democratic senators up for reelection, Scott-vs.-Crist in Florida. But today we're highlighting the under-the-radar candidates who we think could be vying for their own headlines later this year.
-- Democrats landed a couple of marquee female recruits in Kentucky (Alison Lundergan Grimes) and Georgia (Michelle Nunn). But Republicans have one of their own in Michigan, former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. Land surprised some when she raised $1 million in the third quarter (in addition to $1 million in self-funding). Watch her fourth-quarter numbers (coming by month's end) to see if she can sustain that momentum. Oregon's Monica Wehby (R) is in a bluer state, but her profile as a pediatric neurosurgeon could boost her chances against Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) if health care continues to be a Democratic liability.
-- Republicans are strongly favored to retain control of the House, but Democrats are excited about some of their challengers, including Amanda Renteria, a former Capitol Hill aide challenging Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) in a D+2 seat, and Ann Callis, running against Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) in an even-PVI district. Republicans, meanwhile, are touting Arizona challengers Andy Tobin and Martha McSally, in addition to Minnesota's Torrey Westrom, who they think has a shot to unseat longtime Rep. Collin Peterson (D) this November.
-- Unlike the battle for the Senate, Republicans are largely on defense on the gubernatorial map, looking to protect their 2010 gains. But Democrats are excited about their chances in Pennsylvania, where GOP Gov. Tom Corbett's approval ratings are in the tank. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D) might be the nominal frontrunner in a crowded primary, but watch former state environmental secretary Katie McGinty, who has emerged as a top-tier candidate, despite lower initial name ID. One state in which Republicans have a chance at a pickup is Illinois -- Gov. Pat Quinn (D) is well underwater in the Land of Lincoln -- but their prospects could hinge on the outcome of the March primary. Wealthy self-funder Bruce Rauner (R) debuted yet another new TV ad over the holidays in his bid to secure the nod.
That's just a sampling of the candidates we're watching as the year begins. We're happy and grateful to have you along for the ride.