Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Schumer’s Future and the Senate Leadership Curse


In the recent past there has been no surer way to ingloriously leave the Senate than to be named leader of your party’s Senate delegation. This recent fate may soon fell Democrat and Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada. As Sen. Reid’s re-election chances continue to dim, Sen. Chuck Schumer's (D-NY) jockeying for the position could be the final nail in the coffin for CIR in 2010.

Since becoming Majority Leader, Sen. Reid has been under constant attack in his home state. Several Republicans have lined up to face Sen. Reid. The polls suggest that the race is a toss-up and the trend lines point to a Reid loss.

Some are beginning to point to Sen. Schumer as a likely candidate to succeed Sen. Reid as Democrat Senate Leader. In order for CIR to pass, it will need the leadership of someone who is not worried about his or her political future since immigration is too hot-button an issue for someone who is concerned about their future. If Sen. Schumer decides that the Majority leadership is in his future, he would be unwise to stump for immigration reform until he secures the leadership position.

If does secure the Democratic leadership, Sen. Schumer may decide to revisit CIR at a point in time when passage looks better – i.e. when national unemployment is not around 10 percent and Democrats do not look to be hemorrhaging seats in both the Senate and House. In the meantime, targeted immigration reform may be the play for politicians interested in specific issues, such as liberalized healthcare immigration.

For Sen. Schumer to seek CIR while surreptitiously stumping for the Senate Democratic Leadership position would be carelessly risky and tell us that Sen. Schumer has not learned about the Senate Leadership Curse that has felled many recent Leaders.

Sen. Reid’s predecessor, Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) came under the spell of the Curse. Sen. Daschle was often pegged as the “Chief Obstructionist” by Republicans. South Dakota voters bought into the meme and refused to re-appoint him to the Senate in 2004.

The Senate Leadership Curse is not limited to Democrats. Trent Lott (R-MS) was forced out of the Republican Leadership position in 2003 after some inflammatory and arguably racist comments surfaced. Sen. Lott would unceremonious resign his Senatorial seat in 2007.

Sen. Lott was succeeded by Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) as GOP Senate Leader. Sen. Frist took a few questionable positions on right-to-life issues and eventually would announce that he was resigning his majority position and leaving the Senate.

With Lott’s exit, the Republican leadership was handed off to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is the current Republican Senate Leader. Under McConnell’s stewardship, the Republicans lost many seats in 2008, leading some to question McConnell’s ability to head the Senate Republicans. In Sen. McConnell’s home state, libertarian Rand Paul is raising impressive amounts of money in his bid to win the open 2009 Senate seat being vacated by fellow Republican Jim Bunning. Mr. Paul is not the Republican Party’s “establishment” candidate. If Mr. Paul is successful it will signal that rank-and-file Republicans are unsatisfied with the current national Republican leadership.

While Sen. McConnell’s leadership is being questioned, his feet are on sounder ground than Sen. Reid’s. With polling numbers continuing to spell doom for Sen. Reid’s re-election, Sen. Schumer’s chances for the Majority position look brighter.

If Sen. Schumer is elected Majority Leader, he will want to avoid the Senate Leadership Curse. However since Sen. Schumer’s 2010 re-election is thought to be a forgone conclusion, he will not have to defend his record until 2016. With a six year cushion before re-election, Sen. Schumer may be the ideal Senator to champion immigration reform, but in 2011.

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