The Republican Party is being forced to recalculate its chances of retaking the Senate in 2014 thanks to Scott Brown's decision not to run for Massachusetts' newly vacated U.S. Senate seat.
The GOP had hoped the party's spirits and fundraising would be bolstered by a Brown victory in the June special election to fill the remaining term vacated by John Kerry, a Democrat who left to take the job of secretary of state.
The devastating losses for Republicans in the 2012 election and the efforts by Democrats to label the GOP as a party that cares little about minorities and women have left the party struggling.
"It's been dispiriting," Tom Domke, a GOP strategist in Massachusetts, told The Washington Examiner. "The Republicans need some sign of a comeback and certainly a Republican winning this seat would accomplish that."
Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at the Cook Political Report, said without Brown in the Senate race, it will be "exponentially" more difficult for Republicans to pick up Kerry's former seat, though she cautioned that it is too soon to write off the party's chances at a 2014 Senate takeover.
Ten of the 21 Democratic Senate seats up for election in 2014 will be competitive, she said. Republicans need just six to win a majority.
"It is possible for Republicans to get the six seats they need for a majority, but they need a lot of breaks over the next two years," Duffy said.
Brown re-energized the party in 2010 when he won the Senate seat long held by liberal icon Ted Kennedy and Republicans were hoping he'd reprise that performance at a moment when GOP leaders are trying to reunite the party following a thrashing in the November elections. Now the party is scrambling to find a viable candidate just five months before the election.
"It does make it more difficult," Domke said. "We don't have a deep bench here. It's more like a folding chair."
The one ray of hope for Republicans is that Democrats running for the Senate seat are poised for a bruising primary battle, which could weaken their nominee and make it easier to convince a prominent Republican to run, Domke said.
Rep. Stephen Lynch announced that he will challenge Rep. Ed Markey for the Democratic spot on the ballot. While Markey is the party favorite, Lynch is a populist with strong labor union ties who could appeal to the state's many independent voters.
Among those the GOP is likely to recruit to run instead of Brown are former Gov. Bill Weld and Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey.
Weld, a moderate who lost a bid to unseat Kerry in 1996, has not ruled out running. His reputation as an independent-minded Republican will make him an attractive option party officials will likely pursue.
Tomke said Weld could follow the path of Angus King, the former Maine governor who ducked out of the spotlight for a decade before successfully running for the U.S. Senate as an independent last year.
More than half of Bay State voters are registered as independent of either party, which could help a moderate Republican like Weld pick up votes.
"He even endorsed Obama in 2008," Domke said.