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Menendez Follows Odd Path to Higher Office

Democrats said Menendez’s reluctance might have come from the fact that his performance was destined to be considered lackluster after Schumer’s successful four-year run as chairman. First, Schumer delivered the majority to Democrats in 2006, and then in 2008 he served up the largest Senate majority of any party since the 1970s.

But Menendez is battling against a deep economic slump and a serious anti-incumbent mood this cycle. Political pundits have predicted an overall Democratic loss of as many as eight seats — possibly including Reid’s.

Though some Democrats — particularly in the White House — have blamed Menendez for the January special election loss of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) seat to now-Sen. Scott Brown (R), the chairman’s defenders say he has made the most of a lot of bad situations.

“He’s done an exceptional job in a very tough year,” Durbin said. “This isn’t easy. I mean, it’s a challenging year historically — we knew it. It’s a challenging year financially, coming off a presidential race, and he’s had a real challenge but he’s done a terrific job.”

In fact, the DSCC has raised about $2.5 million more and has more cash on hand than the National Republican Senatorial Committee so far this cycle.

And even though Menendez will likely not be blamed for some predictable defeats this fall, Members do hope his work this cycle will help mitigate those losses.

The Senate Democratic aide said party defeats could end up being “a weight around his ankles” if the party takes a serious beating this year.

Lautenberg, however, said Menendez would likely reap the benefits and get credit for taking a job no one else wanted.

“The score’s not in yet. But I guarantee you that if there is any measure of success, he’s going to get full credit for it, and I don’t think he’s going to get the blame,” he said.

Menendez may have little to worry about in that respect. Plenty of other current and previous Democratic leaders — including now-Conference Secretary Patty Murray (Wash.) during her 2002 stint — have had losing runs atop the DSCC.

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