The final results of all the 2008 Senate races haven't even been made official yet (Minnesota's contest between Norm Coleman and Al Franken is tied up in court), but Democrats are already looking 21 months into the future and getting excited about the 2010 elections.
"No place is a bridge too far," New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the new chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, boasted to reporters at a briefing today. "One of the things that the last cycle taught us is that expanding the map is extremely important."
So Republican incumbents like Richard Burr, in North Carolina, is joining usual Democratic targets like Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania on the list of who the party plans to focus on, at least early on. Even Texas could come into play, if Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison leaves D.C. to run for governor, as planned.
In many cases, Democrats don't even have candidates lined up to run yet, but Menendez and his strategists are looking at a map that nevertheless starts out looking pretty good. Of the 34 seats up for reelection next year, Republicans currently hold 20, while Democrats only have to defend 14. Several GOP incumbents have already announced plans to retire, setting up what could be close races in places like Florida, Ohio, Missouri and Kansas. Democrats, meanwhile, have no retirements, though they do have to hold on to seats now filled by appointed senators in Illinois, Colorado and New York. Incumbents like Burr and Specter start out the cycle with lower than average poll numbers and a lot of newly registered Democratic constituents on the rolls.
The GOP has had trouble recruiting its preferred candidates in some states, which Democrats think bodes well for their side. "It's difficult to energize voters when your candidates are reluctant to run," Menendez said.
If Franken is finally seated, Democrats would control 59 votes in the Senate (counting independents Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders in their column). So picking just one more seat next year could mean the party no longer needs GOP moderates like Susan Collins to bust through Republican filibuster attempts.