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It’s hard to take back the Senate without candidates in place to exploit voters’ sour mood over Obamacare.

By Kevin Brennan
November 18, 2013

Republicans are giddy about their chances to retake the Senate on the back of a disaster known as Obamacare. There’s just one problem: The GOP doesn’t have the right candidates to make it happen.

Sure, in the high-profile races of 2014, Republicans have recruited competitive contenders to take on red-state Democrats. But in the second-tier contests, the ones that could suddenly become competitive if the national mood turns increasingly toxic for Democrats, the GOP’s cast of hopefuls ranges from the unknown to the unelectable.

The importance of having viable nominees in these races was on full display last cycle. Republicans were expected to gain seats and perhaps take back the upper chamber. Instead, Democrats grew their majority by two by convincing serious recruits to run in races the party was expected to lose – like Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and Joe Donnelly in Indiana. When the GOP nominees stumbled, Democrats had the right candidates in place to take advantage and score surprise victories.

The GOP will have a hard time pulling off similar upsets next year, even if Obamacare gives them the conditions to do so. Just consider these second-tier Senate races, where Republicans have failed to find candidates who might allow them to expand the Senate map:

Colorado: Rep. Cory Gardner, the hottest name in the Colorado Republican Party, disappointed the GOP in May when he announced he wouldn’t run against Sen. Mark Udall. Perhaps even more troubling for Republicans is that fact that Ken Buck is running. Buck and his controversial comments famously cost Republicans a Senate seat in 2010 when he lost to Sen. Michael Bennet, and he’s now the biggest name in an underwhelming field of GOP hopefuls.

New Hampshire: The long line of Republicans who have passed on the opportunity to challenge Sen. Jeanne Shaheen soon may stretch all the way into Massachusetts. With every big name in the state party ruling out a bid, former Sen. Scott Brown has emerged as the last hope for a credible candidate. But few in New Hampshire actually expect Brown to run. That leaves Republicans with two mostly unknown contenders. Conservative activist Karen Testerman launched her campaign last week by pledging to emulate Sen. Ted Cruz if elected and former state Sen. Jim Rubens’ bid got off to an embarrassing start when BuzzFeed unearthed a blog post he had written suggesting that the rise of women in the workplace has contributed to an increase in mass shootings.

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