A DSCC Hat Trick for Schumer?

Posted October 20, 2008 at 6:34pm

With just two weeks go to until Election Day, Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) continues to play coy about whether he would be willing to take on an unprecedented third tour as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

His posture has certainly left his colleagues wondering: Is he serious about shepherding the DSCC through 2010 for a third consecutive cycle, while also managing his own bid for a third Senate term?

“I am not sure anyone has done either of those things — doing it while in cycle but also three times in a row,” one senior Senate Democratic aide said. “On the flip side, [Majority Leader] Harry Reid may say, ‘You’ve done a great job the last two cycles when things were good, so now we need you to help me when things don’t look as good.’”

“I think it’s a long shot, but I don’t think it’s silly to say it,” the staffer said.

“One thing I know is that if there was ever a reason to waive the bylaws, it would be for this guy,” a Senate Democratic strategist said. “Why does he keep teasing it? Maybe it’s because he’s actually contemplating it.”

Senate Democrats privately say Schumer — the brash New Yorker with goals of becoming Majority Leader — simply wants to keep his options open. Entertaining the prospect of a hat trick at the DSCC keeps his name in the mix, gives him much sought- after attention and sends a signal to the Republicans that the aggressive candidate recruiter and ardent party fundraiser could stick around, some Democrats suggested.

Yet, when asked recently whether he was willing to consider another round at the DSCC, Schumer stuck to his talking points: “They may not want me after Nov. 4. I don’t think about things like that. You know what, that’s the kind of decision I can’t even think about until after the election. I am focused on Nov. 4.”

Election Day promises to be a good night for Schumer. After wresting a surprising six seats from the GOP two years ago, Schumer is looking to meet or even best that number this year, bringing the Democrats closer to a filibuster-proof margin of 60.

Another Senate Democratic aide said Schumer could be facing a personal struggle over whether to hold onto the chairmanship after two cycles of such remarkable success.

Even though he’s unlikely to match his record in 2010 in the face of historical odds and a tougher Democratic map that puts 15 Democrats in play compared with 19 Republicans, Schumer’s identity has become inextricably tied to his chairmanship of the DSCC.

Plus, with already more than $10 million on hand in his campaign treasury, Schumer shouldn’t have to worry about securing his re-election in liberal-leaning New York.

“That’s why he’s keeping the door open — it’s who he is and what he is right now,” the Democratic source said.

In the meantime, Schumer has been grooming a prospective successor in first-term Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), who he tapped as his DSCC vice chairman early last year. Like Schumer, Menendez is ambitious and is a tireless campaigner.

“He’s a good fundraiser with great political instincts,” one Senate leadership aide said of Menendez. “Because he served in the leadership in the House, he has great network in Washington, even though he’s only been in Senate for three years. He has a deeper network of connections in town than a lot of Senators do.”

Menendez appears to be Schumer’s heir apparent, but he isn’t the only Senate Democratic name in the mix. Senate Democrats say they would welcome one-time presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) as their next DSCC chief, although it’s highly unlikely she would agree to the job. And don’t discount up-and-comers such as Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) or Sherrod Brown (Ohio) for the post.

Yet, none of those Democratic Senators has voiced much of an interest. And as one aide said of Menendez: “Every situation he’s ever found himself in, he’s found a way to rise to the top somehow, through scratching and climbing. It would be a natural stepping stone for him as he pursues his ambitions.”

Menendez, formerly the House Democratic Caucus Chairman before winning appointment to the Senate in 2006, appears to be preparing for the chance. In recent months, Menendez, one of the Senate’s three Hispanic lawmakers, has increased his travel and fundraising activities, particularly in the big donor states of New York and Florida where he has strong political and personal connections.

Still, Afshin Mohamadi, Menendez’s spokesman, won’t speculate about his boss’s next move.

“This is crunch time, and Sen. Menendez is fully immersed in his work to help Democrats expand the majority and help [Democratic presidential nominee] Barack Obama bring change to the White House. Thoughts about the 2010 cycle won’t come until after the 2008 cycle,” he said.

Ultimately, Reid will recommend the next DSCC chairman and likely will pressure Schumer to at least consider staying on for one more cycle. The Nevada Democrat successfully persuaded Schumer to accept a second term after the 2006 elections, which swept the Democrats back into the Senate majority.

Those results, which exceeded party expectations, also prompted Reid to create a new leadership post for Schumer as the Conference Vice Chairman, the No. 3 position. Many Democrats speculate that if Schumer forgoes a third trial at the DSCC, he might try to negotiate another plum from Reid, either at the committee level or within the leadership ranks.

“He has to find something else, problem is, I don’t know what else there is to give him,” a senior Democratic Senate aide said.

For now, however, Reid isn’t talking about it. His spokesman, Jim Manley, declined comment, saying only that the matter “will be worked out after the election.”