One of the keys to the 2010 Senate elections — aside from little items such as the state of the economy and health care — is which candidates decide to run and which decide to drop out.
In early August, for example, in New York, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D), who for months indicated she would challenge appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D), has succumbed to pressure and will not run. That decision probably makes this New York Senate contest a Gillibrand coronation.
A couple days before, Rep. Joseph Sestak (D) made formal what had been anticipated for weeks: he will challenge Sen. Arlen Specter (R turned D) in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary. That match-up will clearly be one of the hottest primaries of the season.
Two Republican Senators have announced they are dropping out of the Senate before the end of their terms. In Florida, the race took a unexpected turn when Senator Mel Martinez (R), who had already said he would retire at the end of his term, announced that he will retire early, probably by September. Governor Charlie Crist (R), who is already running for the seat, will appoint a temporary replacement Senator and indicated he would not select himself (usually a political kiss of death).
And in the lone star state, at the end of July, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) made it semi-official that she would step down early from her Senate seat to run for governor. When exactly she will exit stage left (or right, to be more exact) is not clear as is when there will be a special election, but a number of candidates from both parties are circling the seat. The governor is expected to appoint a bench warmer to hold the seat until the special election.
Then there was two-term Republican incumbent Sen. Jim Bunning (R), who was feuding with his own party and under pressure not to run. He finally announced at the end of July that he would retire at the end of his term. Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R) had already set up an exploratory committee to run. Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo (D), who ran in 2004, has declared he will run, as has state Attorney General Jack Conway (D).
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) decided to run for re-election rather than the Senate, despite party pressure. Once that announcement was made, suburban Chicago U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk (R), after first getting into the race and then dropping out, jumped back in and is not expected to have any Republican opposition.
Other shoes waiting to drop — or be picked up:
Will North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven (R) decide to run against incumbent Sen. Byron Dorgan (D)? If so, it could be a barn burner — or whatever they do in North Dakota.
Will popular Delaware U.S. Rep. Mike Castle, a veteran legislator, run for Senate, the House or announce his retirement? He will be a serious Senate candidate if runs.
Californians, or at least some of the breed, are waiting to see if ex-Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina (R) takes the plunge to run against Sen. Barbara Boxer (D). Republicans see an attractive candidate with lots of $$$ if Fiorina runs.