Midterms are over, the prez is in Asia, and Olbermann’s back at his desk—what’s a niche political site to do?

Lean forward, of course (with apologies to MSNBC).

A quick glance at Politico’s website today reveals that the site is keeping an eye on 2012 as it rummages through the debris left by the 2010 wave. It’s a reasonable enough focus for the political site and has offered up some interesting reporting, such as this Jeanne Cummings piece on the White House’s new openness to outside donors.

But it’s offered up a lot of pat “maybes” and “mights,” as well. And while speculation on the fortunes of political players is the bread-and-butter of an election-watcher like Politico, at least in two instances this past twenty-four hours, they are clearly stretching too far.

Take this short story on the 2012 potential of failed South Carolina Democratic Senate Alvin Greene—he of the misdemeanor and felony charges and the numerous late-night punch lines. Kasie Hunt’s report, “Alvin Greene mulls presidential bid” opens with this titillating HuffPo-ready lede:

Alvin Greene might run for president.

What’s this? Greene, the candidate whom Jim DeMint pummeled last week, has begun raising money through a PAC? No? Okay, has he established an exploratory committee to divine his presidential chances? Not that either? Hmmm. Has he started airing attack ads against incumbent President Obama?

It’s much less exciting than that.

Greene, the unlikely Democratic Senate nominee in South Carolina who lost overwhelmingly to Republican Sen. Jim DeMint last week, called the state Democratic Party on Tuesday to ask how much it would cost to run for president.

Lest you should think there was no reporting done here, read this:

“Maybe. I’ll have to see,” Greene told POLITICO when asked whether he was considering filing to run for president. He confirmed that he called the state party Tuesday to ask about the fee. The state party’s spokeswoman, Keiana Page, confirmed that someone called the party Tuesday asking about the presidential filing fee but said that the caller did not identify himself.

“Maybe” it’s a little unfair to poke fun at a piece like this and wonder why Politico bothered running it—if you make a call and realize there’s no story, in the old days, when column inches were precious, you didn’t run it. Alas, today there is always space on the web, talk show hosts always need more fodder (Conan’s back), and as ever, there’s always a legitimate interest in a candidate from some corner of the room. Greene did manage to get 359,069 votes on Election Day.

The bigger worry is another “maybe” story on Politico’s main page today, Alexander Burns’s “Grim omens for Scott Brown’s future.” As with the Greene piece, it begins with a big “might” on 2012.

Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who launched the GOP’s midterm insurgency with his special election win last January, just might be a dead man walking.

His polling numbers are still solid. There’s no Democratic war-horse candidate primed to take him on. Brown’s campaign coffers are full, and his celebrity lets him command a national following.

But virtually every result from last week’s elections in Massachusetts offered up grim omens for Brown’s future. His party failed to capture a single high-profile office in the state. Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, despite early signs of vulnerability, won reelection by a convincing 6-point margin over Charlie Baker, a health insurance executive viewed as a star by state and national Republicans.

We like Burns—and you can see him hard at work in this CJR-produced video about political reporters covering the midterms—but this is another example of Politico generating a story that probably isn’t there. Note the key words in those three grafs: “might” and “still” and “but.” It’s as if Burns is saying there might be a story here; still, don’t forget these facts show there might not be a story; but I am going to give you a story anyway.

And that is pretty much how it goes. Burns, who also wrote Politico’s story on Brown’s January win (“Brown pulls off historic upset”), uses Patrick’s victory, and others, to point out the obvious—Massachusetts is a blue state—and to develop a headline-friendly thesis following a familiar Politico checklist.

He finds an expert to tell us the obvious (one who even uses the word “obviously”):

“Obviously, the results show that Massachusetts is, at its core, a Democratic state,” said former Rep. Martin Meehan, now the chancellor of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. “It has been a reliable Democratic state for many years, particularly when it comes to the congressional delegation.”

Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.