GOP calls Stupak retirement a 'promising opportunity' (updated)

Republicans are confident of picking up Rep. Bart Stupak's (D) Michigan House seat.

"This retirement presents Republicans with a very promising opportunity heading into the November elections," National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Tom Erickson said in a statement.

Michigan's first district leans Republican -- President Obama won it narrowly in 2008 but in 2004 it went solidly for President George W. Bush.

"With the highest unemployment rate in the country, Michigan families know all too well that it's time to change the direction of this country, and that begins by electing new leaders who will put an end to the Democrats' reckless, job-killing agenda," Erickson added.

The NRCC is waiting to see how the primary field shapes up before picking a favorite.

Michigan state House GOP Leader Kevin Elsenheimer (R), whose district overlaps with Stupak’s, released a statement Friday saying he will "take a serious look" at running for the seat.

"I am taking a serious look at this opportunity to serve my fellow residents of Michigan's first congressional district and the people of Michigan, and I expect to announce my decision in the coming days after discussing it with my family," Elsenheimer said.

Doctor Dan Benishek (R) joined the race March 15 and has raised close to $200,000 already, a GOP source said. Republicans Linda Goldthorpe, Don Hooper and Tom Stillings are also running for the GOP nod.

Expect healthcare to be a major issue in the campaign.

The Michigan Republican Party said Stupak's vote on the controversial reform bill cost him his job. "Bart Stupak is the first casualty of the Obamacare vote," Chairman Ron Weiser said in a statement.  

Democrats said Stupak's legacy will ensure the seat doesn't fall into Republican hands.

"We are confident that a Democrat who shares Congressman Stupak's commitment to advancing the best interests of Northern Michigan's middle class families will succeed him as the next representative of Michigan's first congressional district," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen said in a statement.

Updated at 1:08 p.m.