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Three-Way Leader Race on Horizon

Whenever Reid Goes, Dodd May Enter Fray

Although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is sending all the right signals that he will run for re-election in 2010, the possibility that he might choose to retire has fueled speculation that a three-way race to succeed him atop the party could ensue among his top two lieutenants — Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Charles Schumer (N.Y.) — and Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.).

Sources both on and off Capitol Hill say while neither Durbin, Schumer nor Dodd openly is discussing a future leadership bid, they are emerging as the most obvious Majority Leader candidates among powerful lobbyists, donors and Democratic lawmakers. Talk of a rivalry among the prominent trio is growing even as Reid appears poised to run for another six-year term, a move that, if successful, would give the Nevada Democrat a chance to hold the party’s top leadership slot for more than a decade.

“Get in line and get used to waiting because Sen. Reid isn’t going anywhere anytime soon,” said the Majority Leader’s spokesman, Jim Manley, dismissing any chatter to the contrary as “inside the Beltway parlor games.”

“He intends to run when he’s up in three years,” Manley insisted.

Even so, Democrats both on and off the Hill say rumors are rife that Reid may decide otherwise once his election nears, and if so, that Dodd, Durbin and Schumer are the leading contenders. Each, according to one Democratic lobbyist with Senate leadership connections, “will be in a position to run” if and when the Majority Leader slot is open. This lobbyist described such a burgeoning race among the threesome as “active.”

Another Democratic lobbyist said “it’s definitely out there” that Reid — who will turn 71 a few weeks after the 2010 elections — may not seek a fifth term given the grind of the Leader position. But the lobbyist was quick to add that “the more interesting thing is, who is next — Durbin or Schumer or Dodd.”

It has been long accepted that Durbin, now Majority Whip, and Schumer, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, were the most likely candidates to succeed Reid, but a wild-card entry by 2008 presidential hopeful Dodd could add a new wrinkle to a future matchup. Dodd ran for the Democratic Leader job in 1994 but lost by one vote to then-Sen. Tom Daschle (S.D.).

“These are three titans, there’s no doubt about it,” a former Democratic leadership aide said of Dodd, Schumer and Durbin. “There’s no weak partner there ... it makes sense that these three players would all want to compete for it.”

Another Democratic lobbyist with strong Senate ties said “the only way this thing gets interesting” is if all three of those Senators decided to run — splitting Democratic Conference alliances and making the outcome nearly impossible to handicap. This lobbyist added that while many Democratic operatives currently believe Reid will indeed seek another six-year-term, “you never know.” It is always possible Reid, like Daschle, could lose his reelection bid in conservative-leaning Nevada.

“Look at how Reid got his position,” the lobbyist reminded. “He was ready so that if Daschle ever said he wasn’t running, he was ready to move. Everybody is doing that and that’s legitimate.”

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