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Senators Mount Quiet Race to the Top

Durbin’s fans appear to be within the Conference’s liberal flank and among those Senators who appreciate Durbin’s willingness to try to find popular legislative vehicles for Senators to champion. The most recent example came when he and Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan (N.D.) began writing a jobs bill last year. As originally envisioned, the bill would be a hodgepodge of job-creation incentives and tax credits, with each provision being promoted by a different Member. In one early incarnation of the bill, almost 20 Democrats — liberals and moderates — would have stood to get credit on the measure.

Of course, Reid decided not to move forward with a single, larger jobs bill after Sen. Scott Brown’s (R) special election win in Massachusetts robbed Democrats of their filibuster-proof majority. Durbin’s efforts were further compromised by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who made a play to take many of the Durbin-Dorgan bill’s proposals back to the Finance Committee — a move that made it harder for Durbin to dole out provisions to specific Members.

Meanwhile, Durbin does not yet appear to be using his close relationship with President Barack Obama — formerly the junior Senator from Illinois whom Durbin encouraged to run for president — on behalf of individual Senators, sources said. Though he has on occasion made the call down Pennsylvania Avenue, sources said, Durbin more often counsels Members to talk to Reid first to see whether the Majority Leader can grease the wheels for them.

However, if he were Leader, Durbin would be freed from his loyalties to Reid and likely to take better advantage of his previous mentorship of Obama, sources suggested.

Though Schumer is aggressive at arguing on Members’ behalf behind the scenes, the most common concern among Democrats about his becoming Majority Leader is his penchant for not fully sharing credit for legislation, sources said. While Durbin has more often walked away from bills in order to give other Members a chance to shine, Schumer is a prolific legislator, and he is rarely shy about taking credit for his own accomplishments.

However, his supporters point out that Schumer has handed over bills to other Members on occasion or helped Senators advance their priorities. For example, Schumer offered an amendment during the Finance Committee’s consideration of the health care bill to address a priority of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). Harkin does not sit on the panel.

But during that same health care debate last year, Schumer also appeared to have a tough time straddling the two factions of the party and was criticized by some for pushing a decidedly liberal priority — the public insurance option — even as he worked to find an alternative approach that centrists could also embrace.

Neither Schumer nor Durbin is a slouch when it comes to campaign contributions; they both have given to vulnerable incumbents and Democratic challengers.

While Schumer was running the DSCC in the 2007-08 cycle, Durbin — facing an easy path to re-election that cycle — gave a whopping $1.8 million from his own campaign coffers to the DSCC. He gave $250,000 last year.

Schumer, up for re-election this year, has not used his campaign committee to contribute to anyone or any party this cycle, and he gave just $20,000 in the last cycle to Democratic candidates and party organizations.

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