Magazine article Politics Magazine

Forget History, Says Sen. Bob Menendez. the New DSCC Chair Is Confident He Can Help His Party Avoid a Midterm Slide

Magazine article Politics Magazine

Forget History, Says Sen. Bob Menendez. the New DSCC Chair Is Confident He Can Help His Party Avoid a Midterm Slide

Article excerpt

Politics: Handicap your party's prospects in the Senate heading into 2010.

Menendez: We're cautiously optimistic. The reality is that historically, the president's party-loses seats in the midterm elections. So we're in the business of defying that history and in many respects we're in good shape to do so. We start off with all of our incumbents running for reelection, while the Republicans have a number of retirements. Our incumbents are overwhelmingly in good shape. There are a couple that we have to work with to strengthen their position and they know that. In the open seats, I love Robin Carnahan in Missouri. In New Hampshire, recent polls have Paul Hodes beating potential challengers. In Ohio, it's a little bit of an embarrassment of riches--[Jennifer] Brunner and [Lee] Fisher have shown in the polls recently that they beat [Rob] Portman in a state where I wouldn't want to be the former Bush trade representative and OMB director. But it's only May, and one thing the last cycle showed us is that things can unfold as we go along. So, while we do have historical challenges, we also have a situation where Republicans start off at a deficit by virtue of giving up five seats and are demoralized by the Specter switch.

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Politics: In that Pennsylvania race, is the DSCC fully confident in Arlen Specter as the Democratic candidate? What about Rep. Joe Sestak?

Menendez: As President Obama and Sen. Reid have said, we're very confident that Arlen Specter can do very well in the Democratic universe and do exceptionally well in the general election universe. Rep. Sestak has an excellent background and he has every right to consider the race. I think he's looking at it and making his own decisions. He's got a great position in the House, and he is developing seniority there, and he'll have to make those considerations at the end of the day.

Politics: On the fundraising front, the DSCC is just ahead of NRSC at the moment. The fact that so many Democratic candidates aren't taking money from TARP recipients like Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, how much does that hurt?

Menendez: The committee is doing really well in the worst economic times since the Great Depression, and this is after a cycle in which there was donor fatigue and in which the Obama campaign did a tremendous job raising enormous amounts of money. I think it's early in the process to be looking at the fundraising numbers, but just look at what our candidates are doing. They've raised a very significant amount of money already--a whole host of them raised well over a million dollars in a quarter. To the extent that you limit your universe whenever you limit it, you obviously make for a tougher challenge for yourself, but I think people are meeting those challenges.

Politics: Are you worried about an enthusiasm gap in 2010 and are you confident that you can turn a lot of these new voters out without the president on the ticket?

Menendez: I think there's going to be plenty of excitement and these candidates will generate that. Obama for America has morphed into the Democratic National Committee now, and they're going to be doing stuff. They actually still have organizers on the ground in states and are still talking about substantive issues, which is good for Democrats generally. …

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