How damaged has Harry Reid become in his re-election fight? Chuck Schumer may not be measuring the drapes to take over as the leader of the Senate Democratic caucus, but he’s starting to campaign already, according to the Washington Post. He’ll have to push Dick Durbin out of the way, but for a man who seems to have no problem stampeding over the man with the job at the moment, Durbin’s #2 position shouldn’t present much of an obstacle:
During his three-decade legislative career, Schumer, 59, has developed a reputation as a razor-elbowed, shamelessly self-serving, media-addicted political monster. He is also arguably the single most effective lawmaker of his generation.
Now, with confidant Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) hanging on to his seat by a thread, the Brooklynite is nearing the goal line of his long game. Succeeding Reid would make Schumer the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in American history and, more important for the uber-competitive politician, the first among peers. Schumer has thrust himself into the center of issues ranging from jobs to immigration to Supreme Court hearings, but as that momentum has carried him into a more intimate arena where popularity matters, the grating architect of the current Democratic majority has become noticeably more collegial. Perhaps not coincidentally, his colleagues see him as thefront-runner to be their leader.
“It’s very much within the realm of possibility,” said Chris Dodd of Connecticut, who lost a race for minority leader to South Dakota’s Tom Daschle by a vote in 1994. “He’s always moving and always talking to people and he has a very good feel for what other people have to put up with. And that’s a critical point of that job, understanding the environment your colleague has to operate in.”
Schumer declined to be interviewed for this story and betrays an uncharacteristic loss for words whenever the term “majority leader” is uttered. Reid is, after all, still in control, and his closest competitor is Dick Durbin of Illinois, the liberal majority whip with whom Schumer has shared a Washington townhouse for years. Each can boast a strength: Durbin has the pleasant demeanor of a consensus builder; Schumer is the diehard fighter who has never lost an election. The prospect of a Chicago vs. New York majority leader race with echoes of Obama vs. Clinton is tantalizing, but also distracting.
Gee, maybe Schumer should wait for the body to get cold. After all, Reid won’t get beaten in his re-election efforts for another five months. Does the campaign have to start now? Apparently Schumer is impatient to wield the levers of power.
The big question will be how much power Schumer will wield. With Richard Blumenthal suddenly looking very vulnerable in Connecticut, the Republicans have an outside shot at winning control of the upper chamber in November. The fight might be over who gets to preside over the minority, which won’t be nearly as much fun as watching Reid blow the majority into a big November loss.
Do Democrats really want a loud liberal as the next leader anyway? With an electorate poised to punish Democrats for pushing a radical agenda over the last four years and especially the last two, giving Schumer the job sends a message that Democrats think it will be business as usual no matter what. Even Durbin presents that problem. They’d be better off going with a more centrist member like Mark Pryor, and if they actually pay attention to the results of the election, the remainder of their caucus may be more likely to consider that as an option.