The Silent Battle for Harry Reid's Job

As the Senate majority leader struggles in Nevada, Chuck Schumer and Richard Durbin vie for his job

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The vultures are circling Harry Reid as the Senate majority leader trails his opponent Sharron Angle in pre-election polling. If Reid falls, a power vacuum will emerge in the Senate and, according to reports, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Richard Durbin want to fill it. Most political observers think Schumer is best positioned for the Senate majority leader post, but Durbin's a close second. As both politicians vie for the same position (without openly acknowledging it) Washington reporters analyze who would be more likely to win out.

These types of races - determined by the votes of Senate members, and by secret ballot - are notoriously hard to predict. They also tend to be free-flowing up until the last minute, what with horse-trading and last-minute pledges. And right now, no senator is willing to give up where their allegiance lies - or profess anything other than confidence in a Reid victory on Tuesday.

That said, Schumer, the Senate's No. 3, is viewed as the favorite right now over Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2, for a range of reasons.

Neither Mr. Schumer nor Mr. Durbin appears to be openly courting support for the job. And in the treacherous world of Senate leadership elections, even a hint of acting before Mr. Reid’s fate is known could be costly.

  • Both Have Their Advantages, writes Devlin Barrett at The Wall Street Journal:

In style, there are clear differences between the two men. Mr. Schumer is outspoken and hyperactive, whereas Mr. Durbin, though hardly shy, is seen as a more even-keeled lawmaker. On policy, they are similar, though Mr. Durbin has been more outspoken on civil-liberties issues, particularly the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Because Mr. Schumer steered Senate Democrats to big wins in 2006 and 2008, he can likely rely on the support of more than a dozen relatively new lawmakers. Those who won elections in 2006 are up for re-election in 2012, and that may also factor into any decision on future leaders.

Durbin does have strengths of his own, one of which is personal popularity, and the fact that he's personally liked by many of his colleagues. He's also seen as a hard worker, one who is constantly on the Senate floor and active in floor fights, something that matters greatly in the insular body. Most significantly, Durbin is seen as the more liberal of the two men, and Senate members may simply decide that at this juncture for the Democratic party, he would make sense for ideological reasons.
Mr. Schumer has generally been considered the favorite in any potential leadership fight because of his alliances and formidable skills. He is among the most media savvy, politically astute and aggressive members on Capitol Hill. But several people close to him say he has spent considerable time in the Senate trying to dispel an image that hung over him in the House: that of the sharp-elbowed politician who puts his own interest ahead of his party’s, a reputation that has led him to move very cautiously at the moment. In addition, leadership elections can be unpredictable and Mr. Durbin has his own advantages, like his support among the more liberal Senate Democrats.
  • As Long as Reid Is Gone, I'll Be Happy, writes Jonathan Capehart at The Washington Post:
No matter what happens on Nov. 2, Reid must not be the Democrats' leader in the next Congress... If Reid loses, we won't have him to kick around anymore. But if he survives and the Democrats hold the majority, perhaps Durbin would be the better choice for leader. If the Democrats are somehow in the minority, then Schumer would be the best pick. He'd make sure everyone knew who was at fault for any obstruction. But no matter what, a Majority Leader Durbin or a Majority Leader Schumer would be a welcome change from Majority Leader Reid.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.