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Schumer Keeps a New York State of Mind

Sen. Charles Schumer is planning to spend October balancing his roles as a local New York politician running for re-election and a national Democratic leader intent on helping his party protect its Congressional majorities.

Schumer, the Democratic Conference vice chairman, is scheduled to host multiple fundraisers this month for Democratic candidates seeking Senate seats and plans to transfer funds to various state Democratic parties from his personal campaign account and leadership political action committee to help in other Senate races.

Schumer also continues to offer strategic campaign advice to Democrats who seek his counsel following his success running the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the 2006 and 2008 cycles. Schumer also intends to maintain a vigorous campaign schedule at home in his bid for a third term, even though victory over Republican challenger Jay Townsend is not in doubt.

‘He takes no vote for granted and will be crisscrossing all 62 counties of New York just like he does every year,’ Schumer spokesman Brian Fallon said. ‘At the same time, he will be doing what he can to help his colleagues in New York and across the country.’

Schumer has transferred at least $2 million to the DSCC this cycle, making him by far the committee’s biggest contributor among Democratic Senators, and he has not ruled out giving more money before the Nov. 2 elections. The New Yorker had more than $20 million in the bank at the end of June; new fundraising figures will be reported next week.

Schumer also has hosted several fundraisers for incumbent Democrats since last year.

As one of two senior Democratic Senate leaders not facing a tough re-election challenge, and with Republicans running competitively for nearly a dozen Democratic-held seats, Schumer feels the pressure to help as much as he can. However, Schumer typically approaches his re-election bids with a sense of paranoid urgency regardless of his opponents’ strength. He did so in 2004, and this year is no different. That is why he is spending so much of October in New York.

Democratic operatives familiar with Schumer said he is interested in more than just running up the score on Election Day. Not only is this the wrong political cycle for any Democrat to treat re-election lightly, Schumer also wants to ensure that he wins by a large margin to discourage a future competitive challenge and maintain his image as an unbeatable Democratic power.

Recent polls showing potential competitiveness in the New York gubernatorial race and appointed Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s special election also might have influenced Schumer’s reluctance to ignore the home front, Democrats said. Gillibrand led in the RealClearPolitics.com average by 10.8 points over former Rep. Joe DioGuardi (R) in polls taken Sept. 16-22; Schumer led Townsend by 22.6 points in the same period.

‘One thing Schumer has always covered is his base at home. He won’t allow himself to be painted as having gone Washington, so he’s focused on his presence at home during his re-election,’ said one Democratic operative based in Washington, D.C. ‘In this climate, even safe incumbents will be impacted. Schumer doesn’t want to live six years with a sub-60 percent re-elect number. It could be used to demonstrate weakness, so he’s working to keep his numbers up to project strength.’

Schumer has been a major fixture on the Washington scene since assuming the DSCC chairmanship following the 2004 elections.

He helped the Democrats win 14 Senate seats as chairman, and for the past two years he has played a key role in pushing President Barack Obama’s agenda as Conference vice chairman ‘ a position created for him by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Schumer helped shape the new health care and financial regulatory reform laws, and he was behind the Democrats’ decision to push an anti-outsourcing bill before leaving town last week.

But the Senator downplays his influence in New York politics. Particularly with the scandals in Albany and the unpopularity of many state Democratic officials, the Senator prefers to cast himself to constituents as ‘your guy in Washington’ and assiduously avoids the appearance of a party boss.

But many New York Democrats said Schumer is both powerful and influential at home, more so than any other elected Member of the party. Empire State Democrats contend that Schumer is responsible for Gov. David Paterson (D) appointing Gillibrand to replace now-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, saying it was his desire that the new Senator be both a woman and based in upstate New York.

Democratic political consultant George Arzt, who is based in New York, said Schumer often wields power behind the scenes, although the Senator can do so publicly when it suits him.

‘He’s a power in Democratic politics and influential on major issues when he makes a point of it. … He’s probably the most powerful political figure in the state,’ Arzt said. ‘He certainly was influential behind the scenes in getting Gillibrand picked by Paterson.’

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