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GOP's chances to control Congress: 2014 Senate races to watch

We are not even a month into the new Congress, and there are already questions brewing about what the 2014 Senate will look like.

We are not even a month into the new Congress, and there are already questions brewing about what the 2014 Senate will look like. From the upcoming special election in Massachusetts for Secretary of State John Kerry’s seat, to the scandal surrounding New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, speculation is brimming about who will run and more importantly, who will win in 2014.

Early in the 2012 election, it looked like Republicans had a shot at winning the majority in the Senate. But far-right candidates, members of what The Cycle host Steve Kornacki dubs “the GOP’s suicide club,” botched the Republicans' dreams of gaining Senate seats. So will 2014 be any different?

The GOP must follow failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney's lead in order to clinch the Senate majority, and take the states he carried in the 2012 election. The magic number of states for the Republicans to pick up is six, Kornacki says, with a possible eight states in play. But can they do it? On Thursday’s show Kornacki said we need to "take a look at some of these races Republicans need to win in 2014 to get the chamber back" and that is exactly what we are going to do.

ALASKAIncumbent: Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, is a freshman Democratic who barely won against Republican congressional veteran Ted Stevens in 2008 when Stevens was wrapped up in corruption charges. "Begich should be a very vulnerable candidate," Kornacki says of the freshman's prospects in 2014.

Challengers: There are three possible opponents to run in the Republican primaries for the Alaska Senate seat. Lieutenant Gov. Mead, Gov. Sean Parnell, and Joe Miller. Miller, "the ultimate Tea Party guy," Kornacki pointed out on Thursday's show, blew his chances in 2010 when he ran against Lisa Murkowski and lost. But he is back and eyeing another run at the Senate seat. However, if Alaska would let a Republican, say the state's lieutenant governor, go up against Begich he "could probably win," Kornacki said on Thursday.

WEST VIRGINIAIncumbent:  Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller announced his retirement earlier this week, leaving the door wide open for a strong Republican candidate to come in and win a state that has pivoted away from going Democrat in recent presidential elections.

Challengers: With no incumbent, rumor has it that former Democratic Sen. Carte Goodwin has been meeting with Democratic officials to mull a possible 2014 run. For Republicans, current Rep. Shelley Moore Capito announced she would run for Senate even before Rockefeller formally announced his retirement. "West Virginia needs a new and diverse voice in the United States Senate, a voice that can listen and can walk with others to achieve great things," Capito said in November upon announcing her run.

SOUTH DAKOTAIncumbent: The prospects of a GOP takeover in South Dakota remains unclear. Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson has not announced his retirement as of yet, but speculation is spiraling that it may be coming. Not to mention, should he continue to keep his seat, Johnson may have sealed his fate with conservatives in the state over his stance on the Keystone XL pipeline. "Thus far Johnson has sided with Obama on the pipeline issue, putting him at odds with many voters," the National Journal points out.

Challengers: With Johnson's future in the balance, no Democratic candidate has been announced. But for now the race is taking shape as former GOP Gov. Mike Rounds, who would be a very strong candidate, announced he will run in 2014. "Republicans sense an opportunity for a pickup in a conservative state," The National Journal points out.

LOUISIANAIncumbent: During her 2008 run, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu made herself known as a moderate Democratic and had support from many Republicans and Independents.

Challengers: No official opponent has announced intentions to challenge Landrieu, but Rep. Bill Cassidy and former Rep. Jeff Landry, both Republicans, are flirting with the idea.  However, upon jumpstarting her campaign on Thursday, Landrieu released a statement where she stated that her opponents "'may find a more difficult path forward than expected as many prominent members of their own party have already thrown their support behind her."

MONTANAIncumbent: Democrat Sen. Max Baucus saw his approval ratings drop after his role in the passage of the Affordable Care Act, making him vulnerable to a challenge.

Challengers: While no official opponent has been announced, one name floating around is Rep. Denny Rehberg, who is thinking about a repeat try after loosing to Sen. Jon Tester in 2012.

NORTH CAROLINAIncumbent: Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan won one of the most high profile races in North Caroline in 2008 when she defeated Sen. Elizabeth Dole.

Challengers: Even though Sen. Hagan won in 2008, the state just elected their first Republican governor in 20 years and Mitt Romney won the state in the 2012 election, making it is quite possible that the North Carolinian Senate seat could go Republican given the right candidate. However, no names have surfaced to who may run for the seat.

ARKANSASIncumbent: Sen. Mark Pryor, who is a popular Southern Democrat in a deep red state, ran unopposed in 2008 but is gearing up for a fight for the 2014 election.

Challengers: This heavily conservative state does not have a Republican nominee as of yet, but two potential people who could run are Reps. Steve Womack and Tom Cotton.

IOWAIncumbent: Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin announced on Saturday that he will not be seeking re-election thus opening up the seat. As Stuart Rothenberg told the Wall Street Journal, Iowa is "clearly no longer safe for the Democrats--it's now a competitive race."

Challengers: "It’s still early, obviously, but there are indications that Democrats will close ranks behind Rep. Bruce Braley, a fourth-term congressman who represents the northeastern corner of the state," Kornacki points out in his column. He continues to say the Republicans' path is far less clear, with the two names dominating the early chatter about likely candidates being Tom Latham and Steve King. According to Kornacki, King is "a far-right ideologue who has said that President Obama “favors the black person” and is “at least a Marxist” and has likened illegal immigrants to dogs." He is precisely the sort of candidate  who ruined the GOP's chances in 2010 and 2012.

Then there is Georgia. Georgia is not included in our elite eight but it is an important state to point out it is a Republican state where Democrats are still able to compete given the right circumstances. President Obama lost by five points in 2008, and eight in 2012, that isn't much for a red state. As Kornacki pointed out, in order for the Republicans to keep with their magic number six they have to hold on to outgoing Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss' seat, who came close to loosing it to Democrat Jim Martin in 2008. A credible nominee Democrats could capitalize on the nomination and win back the state.