It wasn't that long ago that the U.S. Senate had 60 Democrats (including independents who caucus with the Democrats). The Republicans have now whittled that down to 53, and they thought going into 2012 that they would have a good chance of obtaining a majority.
Now, those chances look like a longshot at best, though the right kind of breeze could still carry the GOP to control of the Senate.
Don't forget: if there is a 50-50 split, then the party with the Vice President (presumably the winning ticket, unless a bizarre "shotgun marriage" were to occur) will gain control.
[Of course, if the party with the Vice President has 49, then presumptive Maine independent Sen. Angus King could put his vote "in play." For whatever reason, the national media has declined to take King at his word, and has assumed he will caucus with the Democrats no matter what.]
Let's look again at how we classified the races:
- Democratic seats in real trouble: Nebraska, North Dakota, Montana
- Democratic seats hotly contested (dead heats): Wisconsin, Virginia
- Democratic seats leaning retention: Missouri, Connecticut, Ohio, Pennsylvania
- Republican seats hotly contested (latter two leaning retention): Indiana, Arizona, Nevada
- Republican seats in real trouble: Maine, Massachusetts
1. Winning the three Democratic seats in real trouble would put the GOP at the +3 they need to pull even.
2. Massachusetts could be a surprise, but Maine is set for King. If they hold the three closely contested seats (and Arizona and Nevada look good for the Republicans), losing only Maine would bring them down to +2.
3. Then picking off both of the two dead heats and one other shocker (Pennsylvania?) would bring the GOP to +5.
In that "upside" scenario, the Republicans end up with a 52-48 majority and don't need the Vice President or negotiations with King.
1. One of the embattled Democrats sneaks through (most likely might be incumbent Sen. Jon Tester in Montana).
2. Indiana falls to the Democrats, plus a surprise in Arizona.
3. Both dead heats go their way.
That scenario would result in two losses, made up for with four pickups (Maine, Massachusetts, Indiana and Arizona). That would give the Democrats +2 for 55 votes.
[In that case, King would certainly fall right into line.]
1. All three Democratic "trouble" states fall to the GOP.
2. Indiana, however, is a pickup for the Democrats.
3. The dead heats split.
The realistic scenario gives the Democrats three pickups (Maine, Massachusetts and Indiana), offset by four losses (Nebraska, North Dakota, Montana, one of the dead heats). But the Democrats would still hold the chamber with 52 votes, and King would still be a non-factor.
But ... what if the Republicans hold on to the Indiana seat ... or .... take both of the deat heat races. It's not that far-fetched.
That scenario would bring the GOP to 49 and the Democrats to 51. But the 51st vote is King. If the Republicans win the vice presidency, then they would be in a position to negotiate to give King the balance of power. Since he could give them the 50th vote (which prevails with the vice presidential tiebreaker), instead of giving the Democrats their 51st.
My assumption is that the Republicans would rather have King as the "kingmaker" than Harry Reid. King may not listen to their overtures, but if this scenario happens and the Republicans negotiate to put King in charge, remember you heard it here first.