UPDATED: It's never too early to look ahead to the next election cycle. And North Carolina's U.S. Senate race may be one of the most closely watched in the country.
U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan faces re-election. She swept into office in 2008 on a ticket with President Barack Obama. Now she will fend for herself in an off-year.
Politico offers this early handicap: "At this early vantage point, the six most vulnerable Democrats are Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Max Baucus of Montana.
"North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis is the early Republican favorite to mount a bid against the first-term Hagan because of his fundraising ability and close ties to Gov.-elect Pat McCrory. But if Republicans want to make a concerted effort to close the gender gap, they may turn to Rep. Renee Ellmers, who just won a second term."
Ellmers name is new to the list of potential GOP contenders. Others include Senate leader Phil Berger and James P. Cain, the former ambassador to Denmark.