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Menendez Follows Odd Path to Higher Office

If Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Bob Menendez is looking for a promotion, he certainly isn’t acting like it.

The second-term New Jersey Democrat has long been known to harbor higher leadership ambitions, but colleagues say he isn’t doing anything obvious to position himself for any spots that may open up if Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) loses his uphill battle for re-election this year.

While Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) have appeared in recent months to be shoring up relationships with colleagues for a possible race to succeed Reid, Menendez has taken what some of his colleagues believe is a strange tack if he wants to be considered for positions such as Conference secretary or Whip.

Instead of treading lightly on the legislative front, Menendez has been aggressive, particularly on interests affecting his state. In the process, the normally reliable and loyal Menendez has antagonized the Obama administration and fellow leaders on a few occasions.

“He’s fighting for what he believes in,” said one Senator who asked for anonymity. “He’s not trying to trim his sails for a leadership position.”

Another Democratic Senator said that while Menendez, who was first appointed to his seat by former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) in 2006, is not overtly maneuvering to advance, he is “someone people might turn to in a battle of leadership. … I see him as a sleeper” candidate.

One knowledgeable Democratic operative suggested that Menendez’s style is more often about seizing opportunities, rather than about planning out his ascension.

“He’s not a calculating guy who has his eye on one title or another,” said the operative, who nevertheless indicated that Menendez would certainly take a look at any open leadership races should they become available.

Of course, one factor in Menendez’s decision-making could be what kind of re-election battle he faces in 2012.

Menendez said last week that all his energies are concentrated on his current leadership job at the DSCC and stemming the losses his party will likely have in the midterm elections.

“I have no vision beyond Nov. 2, and I think it’s good for my colleagues to know that I have no vision beyond Nov. 2,” he said.

He added, “I’m not ruling out anything in the future. … I am focused on succeeding as best as we can and having as robust a majority as we can for Democrats after that.”

While Menendez’s colleagues describe him as harried and focused on Senate races, he also has been active in what some characterized as picking fights with fellow Democrats — particularly with the White House.

“You don’t want to antagonize the administration, because one thing people want in a leader is a team player,” one senior Democratic source said. “It’s fair to say that people in Washington are trying to evaluate whether he’s graduated to the big leagues yet.”

The source added, “He needs to move away from the old-school politics that he was known for in New Jersey.”

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