Evaluating Rep. Etheridge

As we venture through another succession of potential Democratic candidates to face Sen. Richard Burr (R) in North Carolina, it's important to keep an eye on Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.).

The seventh-term lawmaker isn't the highest-profile member of Congress, but he does pack some crossover appeal and a decent-sized warchest to start the race, at nearly $900,000.

Etheridge is also taking the important step of reconsidering the race after initially saying no. You might recall that another North Carolina Democrat reconsidered the race after declining. We now call her Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.).

With higher-profile candidates stepping aside, Etheridge could provide a nice alternative. His Raleigh area district has routinely voted for Republicans for top offices, but he has been able to tap into its Democratic history to win reelection easily.

It did vote for President Obama last year, but before that it went for George W. Bush by solid margins in 2004 and 2000.

Etheridge defeated a freshman Republican to win his seat in 1996. And that was before redistricting shored up the district's Democratic base.

Etheridge hasn't faced a serious challenge in a decade, though, and he'd have to start raising far more than the $1 million per cycle he's subsisted on thus far.

The only tobacco farmer in Congress, Etheridge bowed to Erskine Bowles in a pair of open Senate races in 2002 and 2004. But 2010 might be his year to give it a go.