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Republicans now see opportunity in more than a dozen 2014 Senate races

Brown_N.H..jpg

March 14, 2014: Former Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown in Nashua, N.H. (AP)

Washington Republicans say they are now competitive in more than a dozen states this year in their quest to take control of the Senate, as they and outside supporters continue to highlight problems with ObamaCare and the Democratic incumbents who backed the law.  

Kansas GOP Sen. Jerry Moran, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told reporters Friday his party has “strong credible candidates” in races in “10, 11, 12, 13 states."

"The map and opportunities have expanded dramatically in a year, in part because of the consequences of the Affordable Care Act," he said on a conference call that marked the fourth anniversary of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Meanwhile, conservative groups such as Americans for Prosperity are reportedly pouring million into races in which Democratic incumbents have supported ObamaCare.

Republicans must pick up six seats to win control of the upper chamber. But until recently, they have set their sights mostly on a handful of largely conservative or Southern states in which Democratic incumbents are backing the law, including Alaska, Arkansas, Michigan, North Carolina and Louisiana.

Now, several other solid opportunities -- including races in Colorado and New Hampshire -- have emerged to give Republicans an expanded map and a better chance of winning control of the Senate.

In Colorado, for example, the Republican National Committee is adding more than a dozen staffers as a new candidate and sagging poll numbers for Democrats raise GOP hopes of ending the party's decade-long drought on top-of-the-ticket wins in the state.

The additions come after Republicans got a top-tier recruit -- GOP Rep. Cory Gardner --- to challenge Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Udall.

The RNC is hiring 11 new field workers, a director of Hispanic outreach and two additional Hispanic field staffers, as the GOP also contends for the governor’s seat. That will increase the party's national staff in the perennial political swing state to 20. The RNC will also open 12 field offices statewide, party officials said.

"Senator Udall and Governor (John) Hickenlooper are extremely vulnerable, and the RNC is making a serious investment across Colorado to defeat them in November," RNC spokesman Ryan Mahoney said.

Gardner shook up the state's politics late last month by announcing his bid. He is battling state Sen. Owen Hill for his party's nomination, but he has been many Republican donors and operatives' top choice in the race. Gardner declined to run last year, but he changed his mind as Udall barely edged possible challengers in a recent Quinnipiac University poll.

Democrats in turn have stepped up attacks on Gardner, with the state Democratic Party recently releasing a Web video criticizing him for supporting a measure that could outlaw abortion; voting for Wisconsin GOP Rep. Paul Ryan's proposal to transform Medicare; and opposing citizenship for people in the country illegally.

In addition, Republicans across the country appear excited about former Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown’s recent announcement that he intends to run against New Hampshire Democratic incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

His decision gives the GOP a top-tier contender who, win or lose come November, might force Democrats to pull money from other races.

Brown has formally launched an exploratory committee to enter the Senate race, ending months of speculation about his intentions.

While recent polls give Shaheen a solid lead in a prospective matchup, Brown's near-universal name recognition in a Massachusetts border state and his national fundraising network makes him a serious contender on Day 1.

Brown rose to national prominence by winning the 2010 special election to replace the late Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy but he was soundly defeated in his first re-election test against Democrat Elizabeth Warren in 2012.

Democrats had scoffed at a prospective Brown candidacy, noting that he also was considering a 2016 presidential campaign. Brown canceled plans to visit Iowa next month and has now downplayed his White House aspirations.

In addition, Republicans think Virginia has emerging potential now that former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, whose numbers suggest he might be vulnerable.

A recent poll for right-leaning Washington Free Beacon shows 50 percent of Virginians said Warner should be reelected against a generic candidate, while 45 percent said they would elect someone new. And Warner is over the key 50 percent threshold only in heavily-Democratic northern Virginia, according to the poll.

However, a poll this month by Virginia’s Roanoke College shows Warner leading Gillespie by almost 30 points, 56 percent to 29 percent.

Despite the recent Republican optimism, Moran said Friday his party’s success will be decided “by what we do between now and November 2014."

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky told The Washington Post: "The reality is that up and down the map Democrats are out-campaigning, out-fundraising, and out-organizing their Republican counterparts.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.