WASHINGTON (CNN) - A Senate Democratic leader acknowledged Tuesday his party failed to move quickly enough to counter Republican critics over the summer, but predicted that GOP gains based on town hall pushback to President Obama's health care plan would cost Republicans at the polls next November.
"To be honest, we needed to be more aggressive in August," New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told reporters. "We saw Republicans led by extremists in their party mobilize and make a lot of noise. There's no question some momentum was lost during that period of time.
"But the Republican strategy is for the president and the Congress is to be defeated in policy... It may seem like a strategy, but it is a strategy that's going to backfire on them" in the long term, he predicted.
Menendez is responsible for the Senate Democratic campaign operation and his job has been complicated by primary battles in Colorado, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.
Like Obama, Menendez stressed his support for Republican-turned-Democratic incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania, as well as newly-appointed Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet. And Menendez said that if needed, the DSCC could find itself forced to intervene if these internal fights turned too bloody.
"To the extent that people play out of bounds, we may get engaged [by] being a referee, and saying this is not useful or helpful," he said.
Another race the DSCC is keeping a close eye on is Nevada, where public polling shows that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is vulnerable. But Menendez dismissed Reid's disappointing poll numbers noting that it is not unusual for majority leaders to be targeted by the opposition party.
"Harry Reid is not Tom Daschle and this is not South Dakota," Menendez said, referring to the former senator's 2004 loss to Republican John Thune. "… I would not bet against Harry Reid by any stretch of the imagination."
The DSCC chairman also touted Democratic opportunities in Louisiana, where centrist Democratic Rep. Charlie Melancon is challenging GOP Sen. David Vitter, and in North Carolina, where the party believes Republican Sen. Richard Burr is vulnerable.
But Menendez expressed a far less confident note about the upcoming gubernatorial contest in his home state, where incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine - his Senate predecessor - has posted relatively anemic poll numbers in his race against Republican candidate Chris Christie.
"I have enough on my plate," he said jokingly, calling that contest a race based on "local issues" and complicated by unpopular but necessary Corzine moves.
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