Democratic Senate campaign leader says Republicans ought to be afraid

Democratic Senate campaign chief Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezPelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid House passes temporary immigration protections for Venezuelans Senate panel advances bipartisan bill to lower drug prices amid GOP blowback MORE (N.J.) will rarely be mistaken for his predecessor, Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerJewish Democratic congresswoman and veteran blasts Trump's 'disloyalty' comments Schumer says Trump encouraging anti-Semites Saagar Enjeti: Biden's latest blunder; Krystal Ball: Did Schumer blow our chance to beat McConnell? MORE (N.Y.), but he expects to pick up right where Schumer left off, and he isn’t shy about predicting it.

Menendez sent a strong signal Thursday that he expects nothing less than more offense in the 2010 election cycle, as his party pursues 60 seats in the upper chamber.

At a press conference, the new Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) chairman noted several key GOP-held open seats and also promised to have strong Democratic challengers to Republican Sens. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterGrocery group hires new top lobbyist Lobbying World Senate confirms Trump judge who faced scrutiny over abortion views MORE (La.), Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrHoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post Trump casts uncertainty over top intelligence role Trump withdraws Ratcliffe as Intelligence pick MORE (N.C.), Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Jim Bunning (Ky.).

 While Democrats will have to defend several seats filled by appointees, Menendez foreclosed the possibility of any additional Democratic open seats, saying all his remaining incumbents would run for reelection.

 Historically speaking, 2010 should be a tough year for Democrats, given an incumbent Democratic president and the party’s control of Congress, he noted. But he said that won’t be the case.

“It might be tempting to think that 2010 would be a tough year for Democrats, but even, I think, a cursory look at the map shows you that the fear has got to be on the other side of the aisle,” Menendez said.

 He spent much of his time criticizing Republicans for signaling that they will go after Democrats for the current stimulus package, which has passed with almost no GOP support.

 The stimulus has emerged as the first major campaign issue of the cycle.

 “The saddest and most dangerous thing is that they are, in essence, betting against President Obama and betting against the economic recovery that we are trying to create,” Menendez said. He called it a “recipe for failure.”

Menendez suggested that Republican senators and House members running for Senate would have to answer for the economic crisis the Obama administration inherited.

Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), said the last two years of Democratic control render that attack moot.

“Their worn-out and recycled attack ads with President Bush are now relics of the past,” Walsh said. “The reality is that the Democrats’ record of fiscal irresponsibility and support for tax increases will be a serious vulnerability for their incumbents next year.”

Menendez also suggested that Republican recruiting problems continue, specifically with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent passing on open-seat bids.

In both states, however, Republicans could have better options on the table, with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Missouri Rep. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity GOP group targets McConnell over election security bills in new ad MORE both weighing campaigns.

Retirements weren’t expected to be an issue for Democrats, but the party will have to deal with elections for the seats of four former senators — Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

In those open seats, three of the four appointees could run for election, and all three face potential primary challenges.

 Menendez said he would “presume” that all three — Sens. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch The Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes The Hill's Morning Report - Trump searches for backstops amid recession worries MORE (Colo.), Roland Burris (Ill.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch Gabbard, Steyer inch toward making third Democratic debate Gillibrand unveils mental health plan MORE (N.Y.) — will garner the support of the DSCC. Ted Kaufman of Delaware has said he would not seek election to Biden’s seat.

Among those considered potential Democratic retirements were Sens. Daniel Inouye (Hawaii), Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiLobbying World Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Raskin embraces role as constitutional scholar MORE (Md.) and Chris Dodd (Conn.).

Several other Democratic senators are in ill health, however, which could lead to surprise retirements in the next two years.

Republicans could have five open seats to defend. Sens. Kit Bond (Mo.), Mel Martinez (Fla.) and George Voinovich (Ohio) are retiring, while Sam Brownback (Kan.) is running for governor.

Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who withdrew his nomination for Commerce secretary on Thursday, said at a press conference he likely won’t run for reelection.

Menendez individually addressed most of the top states for 2010, including:

• New York, where he declined to
openly back the appointment of Gillibrand, whose conservative positions on issues like guns and illegal immigration have turned off liberal Democrats. He did say, however, that he thought many of those Democrats would come around to her.

When asked if New York Gov. David Paterson (D) picked the strongest candidate for 2010, Menendez said only: “I think Sen. Gillibrand is doing a fantastic job, and she has shown already why the governor had confidence in her.”

• Illinois, where appointed Sen. Roland Burris (D) will likely face a
primary if he runs for the seat in 2010. Menendez praised potential primary challenger Alexi Giannoulias as a “good public servant” whom he knows personally. Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions To combat domestic terrorism, Congress must equip law enforcement to fight rise in white supremacist attacks MORE (D-Ill.) has raised eyebrows in recent days by also praising
Giannoulias, the young state treasurer.

• Connecticut, where recent polling has shown Dodd more vulnerable than ever, and former Rep. Rob Simmons (R) looms as a potential challenger.

“I see a lot of paper moving around by the Republicans, but I don’t see any
candidates against him,” Menendez said.

• Missouri, whose secretary of state, Robin Carnahan (D), Menendez praised effusively, predicting she would be the next senator from the state.

Carnahan could still have a primary opponent in Rep. Lacy Clay, but Democratic leaders have effectively endorsed Carnahan.