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Schumer lines up backing for Democratic Senate leadership post

WASHINGTON – Sen. Charles E. Schumer intends to run for Senate Democratic leader in 2017, and by Friday afternoon had lined up commitments of support for his bid from “an overwhelming majority” of the Senate Democratic caucus, a source close to the New York senator said late Friday.

Schumer, a Democrat who has represented New York in the Senate since 1999 and who currently serves as the party’s policy chair, would succeed Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, who announced early Friday that he will retire from the Senate when his current term expires at the end of 2016.

Schumer, 64, would become the first-ever Senate party leader from New York State.

Currently the third-ranking Democratic leader in the Senate, Schumer has long been considered the favorite to succeed Reid, 75, who endorsed Schumer in a series of interviews Friday.

“I think Schumer should be able to succeed me,” Reid told the Washington Post.

“Schumer, in 22 months , if he plays his cards right, should be able to do it,” Reid told the Los Angeles Times. “I told him if you need my help, you got it.”

For years, it seemed possible that Schumer might face a contest for the top party post from either the party’s whip and second-ranking leader, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, or the Democratic conference secretary, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington State.

But Durbin’s office said Friday that the Illinois senator – for years Schumer’s roommate in a notoriously untidy Capitol Hill townhouse – would not run for the top leadership post. Meantime, Senate sources said Murray – widely regarded as a strong legislator with close ties to women in the Senate – was more focused on winning the second-ranking position of whip.

Democratic sources deeply connected with the Senate said that Schumer worked for years to make himself the strongest candidate for the leadership post. In addition to building a party message around issues appealing to middle-class voters, Schumer has raised money for – and helped with the campaigns of – virtually every new Democratic senator elected in recent years.

In a statement, Schumer lauded Reid, who has served as Democratic leader since 2005 and has been personally close to Schumer for years.

“Harry is one of the best human beings I’ve ever met,” Schumer said. “His character and fundamental decency are at the core of why he’s been such a successful and beloved leader. He’s so respected by our caucus for his strength, his legislative acumen, his honesty and his determination. He has left a major mark on this body, this country, and on so many who have met him, gotten to know him, and love him.”

Reid’s decision to retire comes nearly three months after he suffered serious eye and facial injuries in an exercise accident at his home in Las Vegas.

“This accident has caused Landra (Reid’s wife) and I to have a little down time,” Reid said in a statement. “I have had time to ponder and to think. We’ve got to be more concerned about the country, the Senate, the state of Nevada than about ourselves. And as a result of that I’m not going to run for re-election.”

Schumer is up for re-election himself in 2016, and all indications are that he is well-positioned for a run for a fourth term. Long one of the Senate’s premier fundraisers, Schumer had $13.4 million in campaign funds on hand as of the end of 2014.

Both the Cook Political Report and the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report – the most prominent political prognosticators in Washington – rank Schumer as a safe bet for re-election in 2016.

However, Reid’s retirement could prompt Republicans in the state to make an effort to give Schumer – who faced underfunded rivals in 2004 and 2010 – a real race in order to distract him from his national ambitions.