"The Republican party in Washington today is no different than the Republican party that ran the Congress before," Van Hollen said.
It's a message they will push especially in districts where there are repeat Republican candidates
Democrats think the economy will actually work to their advantage - if there is an uptick, they can say they stepped in to save it from a deeper dive and say Republicans voted 'No' on every piece of legislation that helped to turn it around.
"The big question will be who was on your side during this very difficult period of time," he said.
But if it doesn't get better?
Then there's real danger, Democrats say privately.
But to give a sense of how much more difficult the landscape is this time around, Van Hollen detailed that 42 members are in their "Frontline" program of toughest battlegrounds, a number that has increased as they scooped up GOP seats over the last few years.
"We are living with the results of our own successes," he said.
That gives them a smaller playing field to go on offense.
As we have reported, Van Hollen said the Democratic message next year will be deficit reduction, from President Obama's State of the Union address on down to the rank-and-file.
Van Hollen was pressed on whether a frustrated base of liberal Democrats would stay home from the polls next year, and he said that while many have forgotten about children's health care, the fair pay act and education reform, they are "all measures we could not get passed" under then-President George W. Bush.
Van Hollen said members who benefited from record turnout in 2008 "will have to be very clear that the future success of the Obama agenda is at stake and even though president is not on the ballot that everyone who supported the president in the last election has to get out and support candidates [to boost] the president's agenda."
He said members must hold their voters plus the independents who voted for Sen. John McCain and a Democratic member of Congress.
Van Hollen also said fears of retirement floods are overstated, and though he thinks it is possible there will be more announced soon, "we absolutely do not expect a large surge in the order of 1994."
Republicans are gloating about their position in 2010, and Democratic members are prepared for "a challenging year."
Based on history, members knew they should "fasten their seatbelts and get ready from the start," he said.
The health care news from the briefing is here.