Coats will challenge the popular Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, Republicans announced today, prompting political commentators to begin speculating over whether the GOP could pull a huge upset this year and take over the Senate.
Counting the two independents who vote with them, Democrats will outnumber Republicans in the Senate 59 to 41 once Scott Brown is sworn in, and by all accounts it would be a long shot for Republicans to win at least 10 more seats this year.
Yet, according to Politico, "within the past 24 hours, a Republican recapture of the Senate is at least within the realm of speculation."
Politico's analysis was spurred by both Coats' entry into the Indiana Senate race, as well as Rep. Mark Kirk's victory in the Republican Senate primary in Illinois. Kirk will face off against Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, the state treasurer, for President Obama's old Senate seat.
Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post also considers the possibility of a GOP takeover.
"Is it a longshot? Absolutely," Cillizza writes. "But, remember that recent history has shown that in a national political landscape tipped in favor of one party a strong majority of toss up contests tend to fall that party's way." He gives examples of one party dominating congressional election cycles, noting that "it's clear that inside straights can happen in Senate races."
Cillizza, however, notes that the Democratic party is already blasting Coats for his background as a federal lobbyist. Meanwhile, Ben Smith of Politico reports that Coats has resided and voted in Virginia -- not Indiana -- for at least a decade.
CBS News Elections Director Anthony Salvanto points out that beating Bayh would be no easy feat.
"Having a well-known name like former Sen. Coats throw his hat in the ring certainly could make this an interesting race," he said. "But also remember Evan Bayh has proven ability to win Indiana even in a Republican year. Bayh got 62 percent of the vote even while George W. Bush was winning Indiana easily in 2004."
Beyond Illinois and Indiana, Democratically-held Senate seats in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Arkansas and Nevada -- where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid faces a tough race -- could be very competitive, according to Salvanto's analysis.
Republicans cheered when North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan announced his surprise retirement, giving Republicans a good chance for another pick up. It was also good news for the GOP when Vice President Joe Biden's son Beau announced he would not run for his father's old Senate seat, leaving Republican Rep. Mike Castle the best-positioned candidate to win in Delaware. Democrats are now backingNew Castle County Executive Chris Coons to run against Castle.
"I predict to you that Chris Coons is going to surprise the devil out of them," Joe Biden told MSNBC. Castle, however, soundly beat Coons in the most recent polls, the Hill reports.
But winning all those seats would not be enough to take control of the Senate. Republican candidates would also have to win two more Democratically-held seats that are currently viewed as long shots. California could be competitive, with Connecticut or New York also as possibilities.
And it should be noted that Republicans are not solely on offensive. The party will have to defend seats in Ohio and New Hampshire, where President Obama won in 2008, as well as in Missouri, where Democrats have recruited Secretary of State Robin Carnahan to run. Republicans could also have a race on their hands in Kentucky.