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If Reid falls, Schumer, Durbin ready to rise

With the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, in danger of losing his seat, Senators Charles E. Schumer and Richard J. Durbin — who are housemates — are maneuvering for the post.
Democratic Senators Charles E. Schumer of New York and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois flank the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada
Democratic Senators Charles E. Schumer of New York and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois flank the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada Luke Sharrett/The New York Times
/ Source: The New York Times

Senator Charles E. Schumer shipped $500,000 to Nevada in recent weeks to help Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader and Mr. Schumer’s political patron and close friend, as he fights for his political life.

At the same time Mr. Schumer, a New York Democrat, made out a smaller check, for $20,000, to the Democratic Party in Vermont, where the gift earned him the good will of Senator Patrick J. Leahy, even though Mr. Leahy is not believed to be in any serious re-election jeopardy.

“Senator Leahy takes no election for granted and is grateful for Senator Schumer’s support,” said Carolyn Dwyer, campaign manager for Mr. Leahy.

The two donations underscore the excruciatingly delicate position Mr. Schumer finds himself in these days. He is doing everything he can to help his friend Mr. Reid fend off a challenge from the Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle and prevent the embarrassing ouster of the party leader.

Careful groundwork
Yet given his own deep political ambitions and drive, Mr. Schumer is also very carefully laying the groundwork to move on a moment’s notice to try to secure the top Democratic job if Mr. Reid is defeated on Tuesday.

The situation for Mr. Schumer is further complicated by the fact that his partner in the Senate leadership and Capitol Hill housemate, Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, is also positioning himself in the underground campaign to replace Mr. Reid, though both men have made it clear they would greatly prefer that Mr. Reid return. The senators and their aides declined to comment for this article.

Mr. Schumer, one of the party’s most prolific fund-raisers, has distributed $4 million from his own campaign coffers to the party and his colleagues this election cycle, including the $500,000 turned over to the Nevada Democratic Party to help Mr. Reid. Mr. Durbin has given nearly $500,000 to the campaign effort of Senate Democrats, and has appeared at fund-raisers and events and barnstormed with Mr. Reid.

Neither Mr. Schumer nor Mr. Durbin appears to be openly courting support for the job. And in the treacherous world of Senate leadership elections, even a hint of acting before Mr. Reid’s fate is known could be costly.

“With all of the problems our party is having this cycle, he has really put the kibosh on any conversations about Harry Reid other than we all have to support him,” Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, said of Mr. Schumer. “I think everyone has respected Chuck’s leadership in that regard.”

Efforts nuanced
But the political activities of Mr. Durbin and Mr. Schumer in recent weeks reflect a sophisticated and nuanced effort to build support for a race that would break out almost immediately if Mr. Reid lost.

Mr. Durbin has appeared or is scheduled to appear at events in California, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin. He has traveled twice in recent weeks to Nevada on behalf of Mr. Reid.

“It is good to be here,” Mr. Durbin said as he gave a pep talk to labor activists in Henderson, Nev., last week. “Not only to be here with you but to be here with my best friend and the best majority leader in the United States Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada.”

Mr. Schumer has given $50,000 to the state party in Colorado, where Senator Michael Bennet is running; $50,000 to the state party in Washington, where Senator Patty Murray is running; and $50,000 to the state party in Wisconsin, where Senator Russ Feingold is running, according to finance disclosure statements. He even pumped $50,000 into Maryland at the request of Senator Barbara Mikulski, who is expected to cruise to re-election but who was eager to help other Democratic candidates in her state.

Dwight Pelz, chairman of the Washington State Democratic Party, said the party was happy to get $50,000 recently from both Mr. Schumer and Mr. Durbin. There was speculation around his office, Mr. Pelz said, that the checks may also be indicative of a race for the leadership should Mr. Reid fall.

Given his successful run as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, adding 15 Democratic seats from 2006 to 2008, Mr. Schumer has generally been considered the favorite in any potential leadership fight because of his alliances and formidable skills. He is among the most media savvy, politically astute and aggressive members on Capitol Hill.

But several people close to him say he has spent considerable time in the Senate trying to dispel an image that hung over him in the House: that of the sharp-elbowed politician who puts his own interest ahead of his party’s, a reputation that has led him to move very cautiously at the moment. In addition, leadership elections can be unpredictable and Mr. Durbin has his own advantages, like his support among the more liberal Senate Democrats.

Reid, Schumer friends
For Mr. Schumer, it would be bittersweet to seek Mr. Reid’s post. People close to both men say that Mr. Schumer considers Mr. Reid a close friend and attributes much of his success in the Senate to him.

It was Mr. Reid who created a special post in the party leadership structure, Democratic vice chairman, specifically for Mr. Schumer in November 2006 when the New Yorker was itching for a larger role in the national party. Mr. Reid also gave Mr. Schumer a seat on the powerful Finance Committee.

“Harry Reid has played a key role in helping Chuck Schumer become the senator he is today,” said Phil Singer, a close adviser to Mr. Schumer. “And Chuck knows that better than anyone else.”

The relationship between the two was on display at a recent fund-raiser that Mr. Schumer organized on Mr. Reid’s behalf in Brooklyn. Introducing Mr. Reid to a group of wealthy New York City donors, including the developer Bruce C. Ratner, Mr. Schumer said Mr. Reid “is like a brother to me,” according to a person in attendance. (Recently, Mr. Reid bought Mr. Schumer a Netflix subscription.)

A longtime admirer of Mr. Schumer’s political instincts, Mr. Reid persuaded Mr. Schumer to take charge of the Democratic campaign committee after the disastrous results of the 2004 elections for Senate Democrats.

Mr. Reid had just become Democratic leader then after the party’s previous leader, Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, was defeated in his re-election bid. Mr. Reid nailed down the support to replace Mr. Daschle, a man he often referred to as his brother, within hours of the results.

This article, "," originally appeared in The New York Times.