WASHINGTON (CNN) - Nearly two years before Election Day 2010, the Senate Democrat charged with expanding the party's already-strong majority sounded a bullish tone Thursday, suggesting the national mood and political environment make it nearly impossible for the GOP to pick up seats.
"The fear should be on the other side,” New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told reporters in his first briefing since assuming the post formerly held by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer.
Menendez's unyielding optimism may seem surprising given how far out the elections remain, and the fact that the president's party historically loses seats in a midterm election, especially when that party controls both houses of Congress and the White House. The Democratic Party’s decades-long majority status in Congress ended with the first midterm of the Clinton presidency.
But Menendez noted five currently-held GOP seats are set to be vacated in 2010, most of them in traditional swing states: Florida, Ohio, Missouri, New Hampshire, Kansas. Meanwhile, no current Democratic senators have plans to retire, though the president's Cabinet appointments have technically left Colorado, New York, Illinois, and Delaware without an incumbent Democrat.
UPDATE: With New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg removing his name from consideration to be Commerce Secretary, New Hampshire may no longer be an open seat, though Gregg later said he 'probably' would not seek reelection.
Of those five states with outgoing GOP senators, Menendez said the fact that President Obama carried three of them handily and essentially tied Sen. John McCain in Missouri bodes well for Democrats in 2010. He also expressed optimism about Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' chances in that traditional red state should she decide to run there: "If Kathleen Sebelius runs, she will win," Menendez said.
The DSCC chief added a combination of local and national factors make four other Republican-held seats vulnerable - Louisiana,- North Carolina, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.
Incumbent Republican senators are particularly vulnerable, Menendez said, because of their "Bush like" approach the nation's sputtering economy and overwhelming opposition to the White House-backed stimulus bill.
"They just don't get it," Menendez said of his Republican colleagues, "How many more people need to lose their jobs?"
Menendez indicated the committee will support all three Democratic appointees, should they decide to run in their own right - including Illinois Sen. Roland Burris, whom only 37 percent of Illinois voters say should run for the seat in 2010, according to a recent Chicago Tribune poll.
"I presume that any of the appointees who do decide to run will have the support of the committee," Menendez said of Burris.