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Durbin’s Role a Third Rail Among Democrats

Scott Ferrell/CQ Roll Call

I think that hes very, very focused on where our party should make its stand and the communications part of it, because thats key to us, Boxer said. We have to take our message to the people outside the Beltway. Its his great strength.

In a brief interview Thursday, Durbin appeared hesitant to promote his leadership role, and he dismissed any suggestion that there has been tension or confusion within the leadership team since Schumer was granted expanded authority.

Democratic Senators have conceded that there has been some friction in the caucus as Members adjust to the new DPCC. The view of a strain among the leadership is partly a hangover from the last election cycle, when Durbin and Schumer were preparing to run against each other for Majority Leader in the event that Reid lost re-election.

I sit in the leadership meetings with Harry, and we develop our tactics and strategy, and I try to execute them on the floor, and some of my work [I] bring back to the caucus, and some of them decide its worthy, Durbin said of his responsibilities. In discussing the new DPCC and how it has affected him, Durbin said, essentially, that it has not.

The war room was originally Harrys creation, and now Chuck and Debbie play a major role in that with Harry and I think they do a great job, and Im glad theyre doing it, he explained. Weve had no problems along those lines. Were going to disagree on an issue from time to time. But in terms of the message and thrust of the caucus, were unified.

One Democratic operative who monitors the Senate said Durbins influence has not diminished so much as Schumers role has increased.

This individual said Durbins nature as an outspoken and unabashed liberal could hamstring him in any future battles for influence with Schumer, who is similarly liberal in his personal politics but viewed as more pragmatic and flexible. The loyalty Schumer might have developed in helping elect the 14 Democrats who won in 2006 and 2008 might also give Schumer an advantage in intra-caucus politics.

Durbin is a go-to champion on the issues many Democrats care about, said the Democratic operative, who is based in Washington, D.C. But he tends to be more of a true believer and its hard to be effective in leadership when youre a true believer, whether youre a Democrat or a Republican.

However, Durbin has admirers among centrist Democrats. Some are particularly impressed with his work on President Barack Obamas deficit reduction commission and his willingness to support the groups final recommendations despite the whack it would take to government expenditures that have long been sacred to Congressional Democrats.

He is a voice of reason; he is obviously very smart and is a very gifted communicator, said Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), a moderate. On the political spectrum, hes over on the left-end side of spectrum down there somewhere. But he just brings I think people really respect the things he says and he stands for.

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