Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Schumer have long been expected to run against each other to replace Reid as leader, should a vacancy occur. Because neither Schumer nor Durbin would likely want to serve as the other’s Whip, Murray is seen as the most likely contender to be the next No. 2 Democratic leader.
Reid hand-picked Murray for the leadership post in 2007, and she drew most of her power from Reid’s approval. However, sources acknowledged that she does still need to build an independent network of influence on her own. She’s expected to put on her own stamp as she takes over the campaign committee, with new hires at prominent positions likely in the coming year.
One Democratic Senator said Murray definitely stands to increase her influence among the 23 Members whom she’ll be helping to re-elect.
“You’re in the same foxhole at the same time,” the Senator said of the closeness between candidates and the DSCC chairman.
This Senator and aides noted that Murray’s recent experience in beating back a conservative tea-party-backed challenge “definitely prepares her for helping” Democrats up in 2012, given she can provide real-world advice for how to overcome tougher-than-normal contests in a presidential cycle that, similar to 2010, may not be friendly to Democratic incumbents. Murray beat Dino Rossi by more than 46,000 votes in a race that at several points this fall had seemed to favor the Republican.
There are 33 seats on the Nov. 6, 2012, ballot. Roll Call Politics has rated seven of those races as Tossups. Several Democrats, including Sen. Maria Cantwell in Murray’s home state, find themselves in the uncomfortable Leans Democratic category.
Sources said Murray is not necessarily angling at this time for any specific future power grabs but acknowledged that she is fully aware of the opportunities that taking the DSCC chairmanship could bring down the line.
An upbeat Murray indicated Tuesday that she didn’t take the job out of any personal desire to enhance her stature.
“This isn’t about me,” Murray said. “This is about making sure that we have an agenda in this country that really is right for our country today, that we get our economy moving again and that everyday families get the security they need, and I know that the best way to do that is to have a strong Democratic majority here.”
She added: “Everybody who knows me knows that I don’t make choices because they might be easy or hard. I do them because I feel it’s the right thing. This is right thing.”
Despite her own personal ambitions, Murray was encouraged by Reid, top White House aides and a slew of her own Democratic colleagues to take the job. Some suggested her longtime focus on the middle class, families, veterans and women’s issues made her an attractive candidate to lead the DSCC.
“From the time she ran as a mom in tennis shoes, she really can relate to what’s going on with American families today,” said Stephanie Shriock, executive director of the pro-Democratic and pro-abortion-rights EMILY’s List. “And that’s an opportunity to restart the conversation with women voters, which is particularly important next year when we’ve got six Senate Democratic women up next cycle.”
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