[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/05/12/senate.2010/art.crist.gi.jpg caption=" Hours after announcing plans to run for the Senate, Gov. Charlie Crist got the support of top Republicans."]
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Score a big one for John Cornyn.
The Texas senator and chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee Tuesday reeled in a big catch as popular GOP Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced he'll forgo a re-election bid and instead run for the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Mel Martinez.
"The challenges that Florida faces are not just Florida's challenges, they are national issues and as a result of that I believe I can best serve the people of Florida if they're willing to allow me as their next United States Senator," Crist said Tuesday morning.
Minutes after Crist's announcement, Cornyn quickly put out a statement saying "the National Republican Senatorial Committee will provide our full support to ensure that he is elected the next United States Senator from Florida."
About an hour later, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also backed Crist, yet another sign that national Republicans want to avoid a potentially fractious GOP primary in the Sunshine State.
Crist will face former state House Speaker Marco Rubio in the Republican primary. A Quinnipiac poll released last month indicated Crist commanded a lead over the more conservative and much less-known Rubio in a hypothetical matchup, but there are concerns that a primary battle could turn ugly. Rubio was quick to denounce Crist's entrance into the race Tuesday.
Cornyn was quite blunt about who he's backing. "While I believe Marco Rubio has a very bright future within the Republican Party, Charlie Crist is the best candidate in 2010 to ensure that we maintain the checks and balances that Floridians deserve in the United States Senate," he said.
"Crist is the big fish that national Republicans have been looking for," Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report.
While Cornyn landed his big fish in Florida, he let one get away in Pennsylvania, where Republican Sen. Arlen Specter has switched parties and will now run for re-election next year as a Democrat.
Many in the GOP were hoping that former popular Gov. Tom Ridge would run, but the moderate Republican announced last week he would be skipping the race. A recent poll of Pennyslvania voters suggested that Ridge would have a better chance of beating Specter than the Republican candidate already in the race, conservative former Rep. Pat Toomey.
The Democrats currently control 59 seats in the Senate (including 57 Democrats and two independents, Lieberman of Connecticut and Saunders of Vermont, who caucus with the Democrats). There are 40 Republicans in the Senate. Nearly seven months after election day, there's still no resolution in the battle between Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken for the Senate seat from Minnesota.
If Franken wins, he would give the Democrats 60 votes in the Senate, enough to bust Republican attempts to filibuster - a move by the minority party to bring the chamber to a standstill and prevent the passage of legislation.
The Republicans would like to make a dent in the Democratic Party's lead in the Senate, but that may prove difficult next year. Republicans are defending half of the 36 seats up for election in the 2010 cycle, including five being vacated by retiring Republicans.
Besides Martinez, Republican Sens. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Kit Bond of Missouri, George Voinovich of Ohio, and Sam Brownback of Kansas, are passing on re-election bids.
And two Republican senators running for re-election, Jim Bunning of Kentucky and Richard Burr of North Carolina, could face tough fights to keep their jobs.
But the Democrats may also have some rough spots heading into next year's midterms. Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut is fighting for his political life right now.
New Sens. Kristen Gillibrand of New York, who was appointed to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Michael Bennet of Colorado, who was appointed to replace Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, could face tough elections in 2010.
Then there's embattled Sen. Roland Burris of Illinois, who was picked by his state's now-impeached former governor Rod Blagojevich to replace President Barack Obama.
Burris has not declared that he'll run for re-election. If he does he'll face primary challenges. The Republicans are hoping that Rep. Mark Kirk will run against whom ever emerges as the Democratic contender.
Finally, there's Delaware, where Sen. Ted Kaufman - appointed to replace Vice President Joe Biden - has declared that he won't run next year. Polls in Delaware suggest that Republican Rep. Michael Castle would beat Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden in a hypothetical matchup. Biden is the son of Vice President Biden.
But overall, the climate right now benefits the Democrats.
"Democrats continue to benefit from a favorable political landscape, solid poll numbers from President Obama, and generally successful Senate candidate fundraising," says Rothenberg.
Of course: as anyone who covers politics will tell you, November 2010 is a long, long, long way away from "right now."