Senators and aides have said Schumer is the favorite to win the position given his avid fundraising, two-cycle tour atop the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and transactional style. Schumer’s tenure at the DSCC helped usher in 15 new Senators and in 2006 delivered Democrats control of the Senate for the first time in 12 years. However, Durbin cannot be counted out, given his own fundraising prowess, messaging style and strong liberal credentials.
Though talk about the potential leadership contest died down over the summer, Democrats on Capitol Hill said Reid’s inability to pull ahead of Angle in the closing weeks of the campaign have reignited speculation that his two lieutenants’ furious campaigning for fellow Senators and Democratic candidates is a pre-election battle for the position.
As members of Democratic leadership, both Senators likely would have been conspicuous presences on the campaign trail this year anyway. But one knowledgeable Senate Democratic aide said, “There seems to be an increased urgency among those guys.”
Spokesmen for Schumer and Durbin declined to comment, as both men have maintained that Reid will win Tuesday and that they have done everything they can to make sure that happens. Schumer has maxed out to Reid with $10,000 in checks from his political action committee, and in recent months he has given $500,000 to the Nevada Democratic Party — making him the most generous of his Senate colleagues to Reid’s re-election efforts. Durbin has also tried to assist Reid, maxing out to the leader’s campaign and giving $10,000 to the Nevada Democratic Party along with hosting four fundraisers for Reid and traveling to Nevada twice to campaign with him.
Durbin and Schumer have also been active in almost every competitive Senate race this year.
Schumer has opted most often to give cash, giving more than $4 million to Democrats and the party this year. Schumer is facing only token opposition for a third term today. Durbin won re-election handily in 2008.
In addition to forking over nearly a half-million dollars to Democratic Senate campaign efforts, Durbin has hosted Chicago fundraisers for Democratic incumbents in Colorado, California, Wisconsin, Washington and New York and candidates in Illinois, Missouri, Delaware, Ohio, Indiana and Florida.
Those fundraisers also benefited the DSCC, which received a portion of the money raised. Candidates typically received more from the fundraisers than the DSCC, sources said.
One Senate Democratic source said Schumer has also been doling out campaign advice to most candidates in competitive races, talking to some Democrats two to three times a week.
“He’s in constant communication with the people who are running,” the source said.
And for years, Durbin and Schumer have been building up chits with their colleagues in the Senate.
While Schumer has what appears to be an obvious advantage with the Members he helped elect in 2006 and 2008, both Democrats have worked behind the scenes to help Members secure committee assignments, avoid tough votes, get a vote on a key amendment, and help with other arcane procedural or institutional wants and needs.
But as the Senate Democratic aide noted, the real contest won’t begin until all the votes are in: “The morning after will be an epic free-for-all.”
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.