Chuck Schumer dropped by our town a few days ago, as he does more frequently than any senator in New York history.
As a rookie, he would often stop at Charlie the Butcher’s for one of his beloved roast beef sandwiches. Employees and customers alike scrambled for a photo with the visiting celebrity. Now he’s a regular and is lucky to get a “Hi, Chuck.”
Paying attention to upstate is how the Brooklyn boy beat some tough competition in the first place. It’s also how he has survived and prospered not only in New York State, but in the U.S. Senate, too. If all goes according to plan, he will lead Senate Democrats in 2017.
So his take on the political situation, which he conveyed during a visit last week to The Buffalo News, is always worthwhile. His observations:
• The Senate: Schumer views the chances of another majority for his crew in historical terms. Washington has followed two “playbooks” over the past 85 years, he says, one devised by FDR, the other by Ronald Reagan.
Under Roosevelt, the idea was for “government to get things moving again” to combat the Depression.
By 1980 and Reagan, he said, government had “lost touch” on important issues like crime, welfare and spending. That could be changing.
“I think things are trending in the Democrats’ direction,” he said.
The senator thinks the days of tea party dominance in his chamber may have peaked. And just as Democrats successfully drifted toward the middle under Bill Clinton, he predicts Republicans will, too.
But Democrats could benefit from the same political dynamic. His team is recruiting top candidates in just about every state, he said, just as the GOP did in 2014.
“It’s an optimistic but plausible scenario,” he said. “There’s a very good chance we pick up the Senate.”
• Senate leadership: Schumer says he senses an increase in his duties as Minority Leader Harry Reid eases toward retirement next year. Always a close Reid confidant, Schumer now finds himself speaking for his conference more and more.
Who stands out as a role model leading the Senate?
“Some people say I have a little bit of LBJ in me,” he said. “I admire LBJ. He got things done.”
• GOP presidential politics: In this contest, the tea party may still wield clout. Its rigid opposition to many immigration reforms will prove a barrier to Republican hopefuls like Jeb Bush.
“I don’t think he can win the nomination,” Schumer said. “The issue the tea party hates above all is immigration.”
In Schumer’s view, Bush has two choices. He can maintain his relatively liberal views on loosening immigration restrictions and lose the nomination.
“If he abandons his views, he will have lost his soul,” he said. “And the public knows that.”
Leadership versus hometown duties: Even if he leads his party in the Senate, Schumer said he will continue his local trips, underscoring his earlier promise to maintain the tradition of visiting each of New York’s 62 counties at least once a year.
“It’s in my bones. I have an affinity, a feeling for Western New York,” he said. “If you look at how many times I’ve been here, I would bet it’s more than 200.
“God blessed me with a lot of energy,” he added, “and I found the right job.”
• Hillary Clinton: Schumer may prove the ultimate Democratic optimist. Some say the ultimate Democratic partisan. So it’s natural that he sees his former Senate colleague from New York as a winner.
He believes she has the experience, is tempered by the wars of politics and will be embraced in the general election of 2016.
“I think Hillary wins with 300 electoral votes – not by a squeaker,” he said. “At a time like this, people want experience.”
It’s all expected from a partisan Democrat like Schumer.
Then again, the guy has done all right for himself – with more lying ahead.