The Democrats’ top Senate campaign strategist has his eye on Kay Bailey Hutchison’s seat – but not too closely.
“No place is a bridge too far for Democrats,” said New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, briefing reporters Thursday on the 2010 electoral playing field.
The contests bode well for his party, Menendez said. GOP senators have already said they won’t run again in Florida, Ohio, Kansas and Missouri, creating especially good opportunities for Democrats. He also pointed to New Hampshire, though just hours later, Sen. Judd Gregg withdrew his nomination as commerce secretary and said he’ll stay in the Senate.
But Menendez didn’t put Texas on the list, even though GOP Sen. Hutchison is running for governor and is expected to leave the Senate, though not before the end of this year.
“I didn’t mention Texas because until we have an opening, we don’t have an opening,” Menendez said. “But I take Kay Bailey Hutchison at her word, which is that she intends to run for governor and that she intends to resign her seat. If that happens we will have a great candidate in Texas.”
Some Hutchison-watchers note that the last time she positioned herself to challenge Gov. Rick Perry, a fellow Republican, she backed out. She insists she won’t this time.
As for potential Democratic contenders for her seat, Menendez offered no names when asked.
“Until we have candidates announced themselves, we won’t do the announcing for them,” he said.
That suggests that his attention is on greener pastures, because two well-known Texas Democrats have been running for two months: Houston Mayor Bill White and former Comptroller John Sharp.
A number of Republicans are also running for the Hutchison seat.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who chairs the Republicans’ Senate campaign effort, has expressed confidence that his party will keep the Texas seat.
Democrats have tried for years to pry loose the GOP grip on Texas’ statewide contests. By contrast, Obama won two of the states on Menendez’s list of the juiciest targets: Florida and Ohio.