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What Reid Endorsing Schumer As Top Democrat Means

Sen. Charles Schumer of New York stands a podium March 3 as Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada looks on. Reid is backing Schumer to be his replacement as Democratic leader.
J. Scott Applewhite

Harry Reid's exit could have ignited a scramble to fill the power vacuum among Senate Democrats.

But the Nevada senator is doing his best to avoid what he called a "knock-down, drag-out fight" by endorsing Charles Schumer, the New York Democrat better known as Chuck, who has been Reid's top lieutenant for years.

"He will be elected to replace me in 22 months," Reid told KNPR about Schumer. "One reason that will happen is because I want him to be my replacement."

Reid called Schumer "a brilliant man" and "a tremendous asset."

Paul Kane of The Washington Post, who first reported Friday that Reid had endorsed Schumer, also noted per Reid that another possible candidate, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, was likely to stand aside. A Durbin spokesman later told National JournalFriday that Durbin would not run. "Schumer has his support," the spokesman said. "Durbin intends to run again for Whip and has Senator Reid's support. He's been speaking with senators this morning."

Schumer — a high-profile, camera-loving New Yorker — is a very different type of leader than the softer-spoken, rules-maven Reid. Schumer has been waiting in the wings of power for years. He's been widely seen as the most influential Democrat in the Senate not named Reid.

Schumer has been by Reid's side — and in his ear — for a decade and is responsible for much of the caucus's messaging. In fact, Schumer and Reid merged communications offices to have a more unified voice.

Sen. Patty Murray, the highest-ranking woman in Senate Democratic leadership, is another potential candidate to replace Reid.
Elaine Thompson / AP
Sen. Patty Murray, the highest-ranking woman in Senate Democratic leadership, is another potential candidate to replace Reid.

And Schumer has this trump card: From 2005 to 2009, when he was in charge of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — the group responsible for getting Democrats elected to the Senate — Democrats picked up a total of 14 seats, took control of the chamber in 2006, and widened their margin in 2008. That means a lot of chits for Schumer to cash in.

He still might not have a total walk. He could get some competition from someone who knows a little something about running — in tennis shoes — Patty Murray of Washington state.

Murray also ran the DSCC, from 2011 to 2013, albeit with less success. Democrats picked up one seat in 2012, which is not quite Schumer's record.

But Schumer does have his vulnerabilities — namely his penchant for getting attention (for himself) and his ties to Wall Street.

The Democratic caucus has become more populist, and that's an avenue Murray could play, if she chooses to run. Also mull this over: If Murray were able to pull it off, and Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, that would mean an all-female Democratic leadership in Washington with Nancy Pelosi in the House.

But with Reid's support, Schumer will be tough to beat.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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