Menendez is looking at a 59-seat majority and a political landscape far more competitive in purple states than Democrats were expecting a few months ago, but warned Republicans not to get to comfortable.
He said he is telling candidates to be aggressive and define yourself and your opponent pronto. Menendez pointedly avoided criticizing the Democratic candidate Martha Coakley, but said her loss proves the party must quickly play offense no matter which state they are going after.
I asked if he was telling candidates they can't go on vacation, since Democrats blamed Coakley's defeat in part on her being off the campaign trail during the holidays.
"There are only two ways to run: unopposed or scared," Menendez said. "There is no letting up on it."
Republican Scott Brown won in the Bay State by portraying himself as an outsider, Menendez said, adding that Democrat Robin Carnahan in Missouri already is doing that in her Senate bid.
"Elections have to be about choices and not just about Democrats," Menendez said.
Senate Democrats and the White House will shift quickly to more of an economic focus to reach out to independent voters worried about jobs, but "it is important to get health care passed," Menendez said.
Democrats must do a better job framing health care as an economic issue helping families that can't afford insurance coverage, he said.