Monday was an eventful enough day on the 2014 Senate election front: ex-Democratic candidate Ed Marksberry has just declared a bid as an independent in Kentucky, and the Rev. Mark Harris is looking to unseat Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan in North Carolina, a battleground for the religious right. 

Things are heating up as the GOP looks to recapture the Senate, but Republicans will have to endure a year of bickering and infighting before that comes to fruition. Here's a glimpse at five competitive races in play towards that goal — and who's in the lead.

Kentucky

Incumbent: Mitch McConnell (R)

Challengers: Alison Lundergan Grimes (D), Ed Marksberry (Independent), Matt Bevin (R)

The Latest: Things have been rather tight between McConnell and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (at right), the Democratic candidate, for some weeks while the incumbent's approval rating hovers at a measly 40 percent. But Democrat Ed Marksberry's decision to jump in as an independent—which he confirmed to WFPL-FM today—is likely to help things for McConnell. A 2010 congressional candidate, Marksberry blasted Grimes for failing to "open up and talk about the issues."

Polling: Last month it looked like Grimes was leading McConnell by a scant 1 point (45 percent to 44) that may have widened in recent weeks. We'll see how Ed Marksberry's presence in the race shuffles numbers around, though.


Wyoming

Incumbent: Mike Enzi (R)

Challengers: Thomas Bleming (R), Liz Cheney (R)

The Latest: Things aren't going so hot for Liz Cheney, the elder daughter of erstwhile Vice President Dick Cheney. Her politicization of Syria is doing her few favors (especially as incumbent Enzi tears apart her flip-flops), and her staunch opposition to gay marriage has opened up an awkward rift with her openly gay sister.

Polling: Cheney has gone to great lengths to disassociate herself from her rather, err, controversial dad, but that doesn't seem to be enough. Incumbent Enzi has been in the lead since the beginning, and subsequent polling shows him holding onto his advantage. Part of the problem for Cheney is that a sparse 31 percent of voters actually consider her to be a "Wyomingite"; others wonder why she didn't simply run in Virginia.


Georgia

Incumbent: Saxby Chambliss (R) (not running for reelection)

Challengers: Paul Broun (R), Phil Gingrey (R), Derrick Grayson (R), Karen Handel (R), Jack Kingston (R), David Perdue (R), Eugene Yu (R)

The Latest: Things are getting pretty crowded in here as the Todd Akin clones pile into the race. Broun has been declaring himself the next Ted Cruz, and Gingrey (at right) just captured headlines by griping about making $172,000 a year in Congress. Those two have been leading the pack, which GOP leaders are less than thrilled about.

Polling: As of August, Gingrey's in the lead with 25 percent, followed by Broun with 19. We'll see how the former's most recent gaffe shifts things (if at all).


Arkansas

Incumbent: Mark Pryor (D)

Challengers: Tom Cotton (D)

The Latest: This one's crucial for Republicans to retake the Senate, and the ads are already heating up. As NPR notes, Pryor attacked freshman Rep. Cotton (at right) in an ad before the latter had even announced his campaign; conservative group Club for Growth Action went negative on the Democratic incumbent in a pricy ad the following day. Meanwhile, the candidates' divergent views on Syria could shift recent polling.

Polling: As of August, Pryor's leading his challenger 47 percent to 41. More recently, it looks to be really, really close as the GOP realizes the significance of the race.

 


North Carolina

Incumbent: Kay Hagan (D)

Challengers: Greg Brannon (R), Heather Grant (R), Mark Harris (R), Thom Tillis (R)

The Latest: Right-wing reverend Mark Harris has just today thrown his hat in the ring, looking to pick a fight with Kay Hagan (at right), who came out in favor of gay marriage in the spring. Considering Harris joined in the effort to amend the North Carolina state constitution to ban gay marriage, the senate race is likely to be a heated battle on the social issues front, with Harris tapping into the same religious right grassroots movements.

Polling: Unclear, since Harris has just entered the race. But Hagan's been leading the GOP.

All photos via Associated Press.