A tough act to follow in the U.S. Senate

November 25, 2008

WASHINGTON – Sen. Robert Menendez has a tough if not impossible act to follow as successor to Sen. Charles Schumer as chairman of the Senate Democratic campaign committee.

Using such words as “aggressive,” “focused,” “committed” and “widely respected,” Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday named Menendez as committee chair.

Menendez of New Jersey will need all of those qualities — and probably more — to achieve anywhere near the success that Schumer of New York has enjoyed the past two elections.

The committee chairman routinely travels the country raising money, recruiting candidates and helping map out strategy. It’s a time-consuming job that traditionally rotates among Democratic party members, and  Schumer faces re-election himself in 2010.

With Schumer at the helm, Democrats pulled off one of the biggest political surprises of the 2006 campaign season when they gained six Senate seats to take control of the chamber, 51-49.

In this month’s election, with Schumer again calling the shots, Democrats gained at least sevens seats to expand their majority to 58.

With two races yet to be decided — in Minnesota and Georgia — Democrats still have a shot for the first time in three decades to reach 60 — a majority big enough to pass legislation over Republican procedural hurdles.

In the 2010 election, with Menendez leading his party’s charge, 35 Senate seats will be up for grabs — 19 of them held by Republicans, the other 16 by Democrats.

“I am humbled by this opportunity,” Menendez said.

“Under the masterful stewardship of Senator Schumer, we have made major gains toward bringing change to our country,” he said.

“We face historic challenges and must continue to move in that new direction,” Menendez said.

One of the challenges he and his fellow Democrats will face is the traditional difficulty of gaining seats during the mid-term election when their party controls the White House. Normally, the party that occupies the White House loses seats in Congress.

Schumer chalked up his successes during the final years of an increasingly unpopular Republican, President George W. Bush.

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Photo credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (Schumer, left, and Menendez with Sen. Hillary Clinton at a news conference in 2006)

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