With the change of the guard already underway at the Capitol and the 2012 elections around the corner, here are 10 questions that will soon be answered as we head into January:

1) By what margin will Rep. Phillip Gunn (R) be elected as Mississippi’s next Speaker of the House? Seeing the writing on the wall, House Democrats – specifically the Black Caucus – could attempt to gain favor and influence with Gunn by giving him a larger victory. However, they could also set the stage for a contentious four years as they begin their time in the minority. Political strategy (in short supply as of late for Mississippi Democrats) will be front and center on the very first day of the new session.

2) What will new Lt. Governor Tate Reeves’ voice be in the state Senate? Some are speculating that Reeves will lead from afar while appointing some trusted lieutenants of his own to manage the legislative process in the Senate. I personally don’t see this happening. Reeves will follow Bryant’s lead and be an ever present leading voice in the Senate. After all, Reeves conceivably could be in state government for the next 16 years – 8 as Lt. Governor and perhaps 8 as Governor; such a notion will prompt Reeves to expand his voice now and ensure he is in the mix as much as possible.

3) What, if anything, will be different under new Governor Phil Bryant? The role of Governor in Mississippi is arguably one of the weakest in the nation, yet outgoing two term Governor Haley Barbour didn’t let that stop him; his fingerprints are on every level of state government. Bryant must put together a team that can match Barbour’s to ensure the comparison to his predecessor is short lived and that allows him to govern without a lingering shadow. He looks to be well on his way to doing just that given the manner in which he has led the transition to date.

4) What impact will the new ladies in state government have on their offices (Lynn Fitch and Cindy Hyde-Smith) and on legislation? It will be interesting to see how Fitch and Hyde-Smith assume their roles as Treasurer and Agriculture Commissioner and what innovation they will bring to these offices. You also have to wonder how these ladies will impact legislation as they seek to garner influence among the legislative ranks. These two ladies are both capable of being a positive force for Mississippi in state and around the country, which I would predict we will see in short order.

5) Will Republican Senator Roger Wicker draw a challenger? He may given some Tea Party ire, but it won’t matter. Wicker is as safe as they come at this point.

6) The question is quickly becoming not if, but how many challengers – both in-party and elsewhere – will first term 4th District Congressman Steven Palazzo (R) face when the field is finally set? The stories continue to swirl around Palazzo, feeding the rumor mill and giving otherwise reluctant potential challengers cause to rethink their decision. This is the race to watch, at least prior to qualifying.

7) Will former Democratic Congressman Gene Taylor throw his hat back in the ring in the 4th District? Taylor continues to leave the door open to a run and would be Palazzo’s biggest threat given his name ID. If the Democratic Party can convince Taylor to run this will be one of the most watched races in 2012 not only in Mississippi but in the Southern region.

8) In Congressional District 2, how much of an impact will Bennie Thompson’s (D) in-party challenger Heather McTeer Hudson have on the long time incumbent’s reelection? A quick prediction as of now says very little although Thompson’s not getting any younger so for Hudson to build her name recognition early and often may bode well for her future.

9) Will Alan Nunnelee, first term Republican 1st District Congressman, face a serious challenge or is he safe? Nunnelee already knows he’ll face at least one in-party challenger – Henry Ross. As for others, some names have surfaced but their ability to challenge the incumbent at this stage in the game is limited. Nunnelee looks to be as safe as any first term Congressman in America, which means it depends on who you ask.

10) Can 3rd District Congressman Gregg Harper (R) be beat? By all means, this isn’t to say that I think he should be – he shouldn’t. Harper’s been solid for Mississippi and is continuing to gain influence with his colleagues. The question is if those disgruntled with Harper (liberals and even some in the Tea Party) can mount enough of a challenge to defeat Harper. Conventional wisdom says they can’t and that Harper is in for as long as he wishes barring any unpredicted and uncharacteristic flubs.

BONUS: Other questions lingering on the horizon…

* Does Republican Senator Thad Cochran step down, retire or seek reelection? I don’t see Cochran stepping down ala Trent Lott. He will finish his term barring any unfortunate situations. Whether he seeks reelection or retires is debatable at this point. Potential replacements lining up even now are Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, State Auditor Stacey Pickering and state Senator Chris McDaniel. Some are speculating that these or others could seek the Senate seat even if Cochran runs for reelection.

* What role does Haley Barbour play both in Mississippi and on the national political scene? Barbour isn’t going away; he will continue to have a voice. It will be interesting to see where the Governor lands next.

Feel free to chime in and let us know what you think of these questions facing us in 2012 right here in Mississippi…