Public polling this week revealed that Orrin Hatch has a re-election problem. The fact that he was tied in a primary wasn't the story. More interesting is that he was even with Rep. Jim Matheson in a potential general election match-up. This, where there hasn't been a Democratic Senator since Frank Moss was defeated in 1976... by Orrin Hatch.
But, here's the real point: it's not 2010 anymore, Toto.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting a wave election for Senate Democrats. It's too early, and wave elections haven't historically happened often; well, as often as they've occurred over the last three election cycles.
A boastful GOP establishment has been breathlessly promising a 2012 Senate Majority takeover for months. And, the braggadocio is based on one simple set of numbers: Democrats are defending 23 seats while the Republicans only 10, and the GOP needs to pick up 4 seats to gain control of the US Senate. So, for the moneyed DC special interests, that math and a little 2010 fairy dust gets them what they've dreamed of for seven years -- Mitch McConnell as Majority Leader.
Still, a closer look at the Senate map suggests a different reality. While there is still time for candidate recruiting, the map is less competitive than billed. Today, there are no opponents for Debbie Stabenow, Bob Casey, Maria Cantwell, Joe Manchin, and Amy Klobuchar. You can hear plenty of game talk in Ohio, but still, Sherrod Brown has no opponent. And, in most of these cases, the so-called "A" candidates have definitively said they are not running.
There are also states where the GOP has to worry about Christine O'Donnell-style Tea Party primaries. Florida looks ripe already, as three GOP candidates regularly duel on conservative talk-radio to see who can be more outrageous. And at least three Republican incumbents -- Dick Lugar, Olympia Snowe and the aforementioned Orrin Hatch -- are facing difficult contests from Tea Party insurgents. Indeed, a nasty convention process in Utah took out incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett last cycle.
Despite having fewer seats to pick-up, Democrats should have that chance not just in Indiana and Maine, but also in Massachusetts against the underwhelming Sen. Scott Brown and in Nevada, where Rep. Shelley Berkley holds a lead over Sen. Dean Heller.
Back in April, Nate Silver projected the GOP's chances for a new majority at "a wee bit over 50 percent." Three months later, our chances have arguably improved. Long story, short -- the actual number of competitive races should make it considerably harder for the GOP in 2012 to gain a new majority in the Senate.
The same overconfidence that the GOP has for Senate gains matches the level of hubris that has guided them in governing. An almost comical over-reading of their perceived mandate from the 2010 elections led to a callous, cynical budget approach with the Ryan plan. And while the Class of 2010 seems more eager to engage in dogma wars over same-sex marriage, choice, union bashing, etc., more shocking is their disregard for an agenda that ignores working Americans. Only Republicans could balloon the debt with upper income and corporate tax cuts, then turn around and threaten that the debt ceiling will lead to Chinese invasion.
Still, GOP operatives in this town chortle that they will overcome their own party's chicanery with their secret weapon from the last election: Crossroads. Third-party groups like Karl Rove's Crossroads outspent similar Democratic groups in 2010 Senate races by over $50 million. This despite whatever funding advantage Democratic incumbents may have had or the significant spending advantage we held at the DSCC over the NRSC. Overturning the ludicrous Supreme Court "Citizens United" decision in the near future seems unlikely. But, Democrats should at least close the spending gap in third party world through the efforts of Senate Majority PAC and undermine the communication advantage right-wing groups had in 2010.
Make no mistake; there will be close, competitive races in the Senate, including Montana, Missouri and Virginia. Ironically, these are the same three states that gave Democrats a Senate Majority in 2006. It's just that, despite GOP protestations otherwise, we've got more than a fighting chance to "hold the joint" in 2012.