Republicans in Washington State do not yet have a declared candidate to challenge U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell next year, but the list of potential contenders continues to grow.

State Senator Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane) is testing the waters now with the possible formation of an exploratory committee reported yesterday by NW Daily Marker. Though Baumgartner has only been in public office for less than a full term he brings with him a youthful charismatic image that partners well with an impressive personal history. A check this morning of finds a site under construction.

In interviews given to NW Daily Marker, Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) has categorically left the door open to consider jumping in, but using the same analogy has not stepped out onto the front stoop to address issues in the race. He has, however, voiced a desire to continue growing Washington’s influence in Congress from his seat on Ways and Means. Because of population shifts in Washington, this year’s redistricting could result in some significant changes to the makeup of Reichert’s 8th District, a factor that could have great weight in Reichert’s ultimate decision.

The only potential entrant who has made public statements directed squarely at Cantwell and her record has been Seattle-based media consultant and former White House deputy press secretary Scott Stanzel. Stanzel’s identification with voters is very low, but observers should not discount the effect of free media. When his name began to circulate as a person of interest, a week-long drip-drip of media coverage followed (including a boost from conservative pundit Dana Perino) and he was not shy about speaking with the press. Stanzel has consistently said he will make a decision about the race shortly after his wedding in early September.

Buzz around former television anchor and 2009 King County Executive candidate Susan Hutchison has subsided, as has similar talk that Port of Seattle Commission President Bill Bryant might run to unseat Cantwell.

A sixth mystery candidate continues to fly below the radar, though public chatter on social media last week indicated that party insiders have met with Candidate X.

Still, not one candidate has done more than tip-toe around the idea of possibly thinking about considering a run to challenge a well-heeled but politically vulnerable sitting U.S. Senator at a time when congressional approval ratings are shockingly low.

It is now September 2nd, a year and a several days away from the 2012 general election. There has not been a public poll of the potential field since late spring. Getting in or staying out may boil down to a gut-check by those on the long list of maybes. Those who believe enough in their own chances to win over Washington’s complex electorate will need to take a measured leap of faith, and maybe that’s the proper litmus test.