Democrats have a dream. They dream that they will wake up on November 8 and that West Virginia senator Robert Byrd, the 88-year-old antiwar firebrand, will be in charge of appropriating every dollar spent in Iraq. They dream that Patrick Leahy, the Vermont senator who led the effort against Samuel Alito, will be the man deciding which Bush judges get considered. They dream that a senator from South Dakota named Tim Johnson will be running the now-dormant Ethics Committee, aggressively investigating GOP lobbyists looting their way through Washington. They dream of a vote on a minimum-wage increase and public hearings on global warming. And Democrats soothe themselves to sleep every night with visions of beating six years’ worth of secrets out of the Bush administration—on pre-9/11 intelligence, the Plame affair, Katrina, Dubai Ports World, Halliburton—through the fearsome power of the subpoena.
Democrats dream that they will once again matter in Washington. In short, they dream of taking control of the United States Senate.
In an election year that offers Democrats a target-rich environment, no goal is more coveted than that of reclaiming the upper chamber of Congress. Democrats are poised to take back governor’s mansions scattered from coast to coast, but those races are local ones and will have almost no impact on Bush or his agenda. The party needs a net gain of fifteen seats to regain the House of Representatives, and while that is starting to look less impossible than it did just a few months ago, deftly gerrymandered districts serve as powerful structural impediments to a Democratic takeover.
The Senate is different. It has 44 Democrats and one independent who votes with them. Because ties are broken by Dick Cheney, six seats need to change hands to bring the body under Democratic control. Unlike reclaiming the House, or the far-off presidential race, it is a goal that seems tangible, achievable. Any Democrat in Washington can rattle off the six states of greatest opportunity—Pennsylvania, Missouri, Ohio, Montana, Rhode Island, and Tennessee—and explain how each can be won. And if Election Day were tomorrow, according to the latest polls, the Democrats would stand a reasonable chance of sweeping all six. Such a colossal victory would spell the end of the Bush era.
The man orchestrating the Senate takeover is New York’s senior senator, Charles Schumer, who is the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and has already managed the unlikely task of out-fund-raising his Republican counterparts.
Despite the intensity of this moment, Schumer has a disarmingly casual air when I meet him at his Capitol Hill office. He’s kicked off his shoes and sits with his feet propped up on a coffee table. Aides march in and out without knocking, always addressing him as Chuck. One tosses him an apple across the room.
Although he has never been as captivated by the trappings of the Senate as some of his colleagues, and hasn’t quite brushed off the scrappiness of his eighteen years in the House, Schumer brings to the DSCC a mastery of the two basics of modern politics: money and media. He is, famously, the Senate’s greatest fund-raiser and greatest TV hound, important qualifications for his new job. Schumer thought about running for governor this year but instead leveraged the threat of leaving the Senate to secure a spot on the powerful Finance Committee, which writes the nation’s tax laws and, not insignificant, is a perch that puts him in constant contact with the political donor class. “That was my dream,” he says. “I always wanted to be on the Finance Committee.”
Agreeing to run the DSCC was a tougher call. The job is not always considered a great gig for a senator. Schumer calls it “a lemon.” But he took it, he insists, leaning forward and getting animated for the first time in our interview, because the GOP coalition of what he delicately calls “theocrats” and “economic royalists” is on the cusp of total victory in Washington. “The only barrier between these people and the America we’ve all come to know and love are the 45 Democrats in the Senate. And if we were to lose three seats, which looked very possible in December of 2004, it would be gone, because the magic number in the Senate is 41, not 51. So I said I had to take the job.”
On the Republican side, the lemon was awarded to North Carolina senator Elizabeth Dole. As head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, she is the anti-Schumer. He relishes politics and is his own best consultant, while Dole can hardly get dressed in the morning without an adviser. Schumer’s most rehearsed lines seem to be off the cuff, while Dole’s every utterance is a robotic drone. Schumer envelops the press with love. Dole rarely submits to on-the-record interviews. He has shattered fund-raising records. She has failed to keep pace.
In another year, her mistakes wouldn’t matter much because much of the NRSC’s political work would actually be done by Karl Rove—she’d just be the one with her name on the stationery. But 2005 happened to be the year Rove was waylaid by the Plame-leak investigation, forcing Dole to run the committee on her own and making Schumer shine by comparison.
Part of the reason Schumer took the job is that he was able to join Minority Leader Harry Reid’s Senate leadership team, which allows him to craft the party’s message with an eye toward the Senate races. He has embraced that job as if he’d spent his career representing Dubuque rather than Brooklyn. He is obsessed with the health of what he calls his “marginals,” red-state Democrats who live in fear of being too closely associated with, well, New York liberals like Schumer. He treats the marginals like fragile vases in constant danger of being knocked off their pedestals.
Schumer considers every Washington debate in terms of how it will affect the marginals. “There were some in our caucus that wanted to let the Patriot Act lapse,” he tells me. “I said that I think we got to change it, and I’ll work to change it, but to let it lapse would be a disaster, particularly for our Democrats in red states. You know, when I go to a drawing room in Manhattan and they say, ‘You got to appeal to our base!’ I say, ‘There is no base in North Dakota!’ ”
When Schumer took the helm of the DSCC last year, he became personally immersed in the weeds of the operation, hiring his own team, messing around in primaries, recruiting candidates, and personally lecturing them about how to run a campaign using what he calls the Schumer Method. That’s his secret recipe for his own New York victory, and he is now franchising it out. He instructs his candidates to very carefully define the prototypical swing voters in their home states—for him, it’s the imaginary Joe and Ilene O’Reilly from Massapequa—and then craft a campaign to meet their needs. To reach these local Joes and Ilenes regularly, he also coaches his candidates to get home and hit every media market in their state at least once a month. “The head of the DSCC used to be just a fund-raiser,” says Schumer’s communications director, Phil Singer. “He’s become more of a strategist and tactician.”
Schumer hired a top party fund-raiser, Julianna Smoot, and a well-respected political director, Guy Cecil. To do press, he brought in Singer, a wound-up master opposition researcher and favorite of Washington reporters, who looks like a trim, 30-year-old version of Schumer. He installed J. B. Poersch as executive director. A dead-ringer for the late comedian Chris Farley, Poersch is a coveted operative whose last stint was running the Kerry campaign in Ohio, the Waterloo for Democrats in 2004. After that searing near-victory, Poersch, like Schumer, gravitated to the DSCC out of a sense of foreboding about what would happen if the Democrats lost three more seats. “This is the place of last refuge,” he says.
Even with this new team in place, the DSCC was still weighted down by the past, including $4 million in debt. Nothing is more depressing to donors than being called after a humiliating defeat and begged to pay off the old credit-card bill. “They hated that,” Schumer says. “Because they were paying for past mistakes.” Instead, Schumer and Reid demanded that Democratic senators themselves retire the debt. In a month, the DSCC was solvent.
And still things looked fairly grim. Democrats hold eighteen seats up for reelection this year, while Republicans hold fifteen. Most sitting senators glide to victory; their reelection rate is 80 percent. Open seats are where the genuine battles tend to be waged. In 2002 and 2004, the greatest predictor of who would win a competitive Senate race was how well Bush had fared in the state. Compounding the problem for Democrats in 2004 was that several red-state senators, some elected decades earlier, retired and were replaced with fresh new Republicans. In 2002, Democrats lost seats in Georgia and Missouri. In 2004, they lost another Georgia seat and ones in South Dakota, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana. Since there are 31 red states and 19 blue states, this is a very unhappy trend for Senate Democrats.
Schumer’s first job was to put a finger in this dike. He badgered the five Democrats up for reelection this year in red states—New Mexico, North Dakota, Florida, Nebraska, and West Virginia—not to retire. One by one, Schumer and Reid sat down with these five men and played Let’s Make a Deal. “We basically begged them to stay,” says Schumer. “They came to Harry’s office and we said, ‘What do you need?’ ” Some got a seat on a prized committee. Others received assurances that their pet legislative issues or pork-barrel requests would be given priority. And everyone was promised that the DSCC would help out aggressively with fund-raising and that Schumer would talk up the candidates to his donors.
Octogenarian Robert Byrd was flirting with retirement, and keeping him on became an especially crucial mission. Once a reliably Democratic state, West Virginia has, through the Bush years, grown steadily more conservative. In 2000, Bush captured it with 52 percent of the vote, and in 2004 with 56 percent. If Byrd had left this year, the seat would almost surely have been lost to Republican congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, a young up-and-comer in the state whose father was governor. Schumer and other Democrats persuaded Byrd to stick around partly by promising him that they would do most of his fund-raising for him. Schumer, Reid, Dick Durbin, and former majority leader Tom Daschle all held early fund-raisers for Byrd to convince him they were serious. By September, with almost $2 million banked, Byrd announced his reelection bid. Similar horse-trading persuaded his four red-state colleagues to do the same.
“When I go to a drawing room in Manhattan and they say, ‘You got to appeal to our base!’ I say, ‘There is no base in North Dakota!’ ”
Schumer had less success keeping all his blue-state senators. Three are retiring. Independent Jim Jeffords is leaving, though his Vermont seat is likely to be won by a Democrat. Maryland’s Paul Sarbanes is also quitting, producing a long-shot opportunity for Republicans in that state. More worrisome for Democrats is holding onto the seat of Minnesota’s Mark Dayton. Schumer’s relentlessness helped push Dayton out. Best known as the only senator to vacate his Washington office last fall after a vague terrorism threat, Dayton retired partly because he couldn’t stomach the fund-raising pace demanded by Schumer. “Every time I’d see Chuck Schumer … he’d say, ‘Raise money, Mark. Go raise money. Raise money,’ ” Dayton told his hometown paper after announcing his retirement. According to sources close to Schumer, the senator privately believed Dayton was a sitting duck who had lost the hunger to serve. He wanted Dayton to quit, and he quickly recruited a less-vulnerable replacement. “That was the one retirement they were actually happy about,” says Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for The Cook Political Report.
In exchange for helping candidates raise money, Schumer makes a demand: no amateurs. Anybody who wants DSCC help must have a campaign manager, a finance director, and a communications director personally approved by Schumer and his aides. “To preapprove the top three spots is about as hands-on as I’ve ever heard,” says Duffy.
But the truth is that an incumbent senator’s great hope is that he never has to use that campaign staff. “The goal is not to win your race,” says Phil Singer. “The goal is not to have a race.” And the first year of Schumer’s DSCC service was devoted to making sure that vulnerable Democrats faced no serious opposition in 2006. Through a mix of luck, heavy fund-raising, hardball politics, Elizabeth Dole’s anemic performance, and a major assist from Bush’s deteriorating political situation, the top Republicans in state after state decided not to challenge weak Democrats. In North Dakota, Republicans tried to get popular governor John Hoeven to run against Democratic senator Kent Conrad. “He voted against the war,” says Schumer, explaining how worried he was about Conrad, one of his marginals, “and against the anti-gay-marriage amendment. And Kent, amazingly enough, to his everlasting credit, was the 34th vote blocking a constitutional amendment banning flag-burning, which would have been the first time the Bill of Rights had ever been amended. In North Dakota! That would have been hard to do in any state.”
Bush twisted Hoeven’s arm aboard Air Force One and fêted him during a two-night sleepover at the White House, but Hoeven declined to jump into the race. Conrad now has $3 million in the bank and no serious Republican opponent.
In Nebraska, another vulnerable red-stater, Ben Nelson, wanted to scare off a challenge from Governor Mike Johanns. Nelson came to Schumer and Reid in late 2004 and told them that if he could raise $1 million in one month, Johanns wouldn’t challenge him. Schumer personally tapped his own base of New York donors, many of whom had never heard of Nelson. They coughed up tens of thousands of dollars. In his last Senate election campaign, Nelson raised a total of $50,395 from New Yorkers; this cycle, he’s already netted $130,500. His ratio of Nebraska money to New York money used to be thirteen to one. Now it’s three to one. Sure enough, a month after the fund-raising blitz began, and with $1 million in the bank, Johanns decided to join the Bush administration as secretary of Agriculture, and other top Republicans in the state declined to enter the race.
In West Virginia, nudging Capito out of the race became a matter of some urgency. Byrd is in no shape to campaign around the state. One of his first radio interviews after he announced he was running turned into a rambling, semi-coherent soliloquy about how much he loved the people of West Virginia. So Byrd, Schumer, and the DSCC, working with West Virginia’s Democratic governor, Joe Manchin, sought to scare off potential sources of Republican funding, threatening and browbeating state donors into not giving a dime to Capito. Their efforts may have had only a marginal impact, but combined with Bush’s slipping popularity and the NRSC’s paltry fund-raising, that did the trick. Capito decided not to run.
The story was similar in Washington, Michigan, and Florida. In the top six races targeted by Republicans, the Democratic incumbents didn’t retire and their toughest adversaries declined to run. “Every one of the six candidates faced down their major opponent,” Schumer boasts.
Schumer’s early success at preventing retirements and strengthening his most vulnerable colleagues puts Senate Democrats in their strongest defensive position since the 2000 election. Their most at-risk seat is in Minnesota, though Washington’s Senator Maria Cantwell is also facing a spirited challenge. In six other states targeted by the GOP—Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, Maryland, and Vermont—Democrats currently look safe. This surprisingly strong start has allowed Schumer to play offense and concentrate his firepower on the six states Democrats recite in their dreams: Pennsylvania, Missouri, Ohio, Montana, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.
Schumer has spent an inordinate amount of his time recruiting candidates to challenge the five vulnerable incumbent Republicans in these states (Tennessee has an open seat). He set the tone early last year in Pennsylvania when he risked the wrath of pro-choice Democrats by begging pro-lifer Bob Casey Jr. to run against Senator Rick Santorum, whom Democrats call “our Daschle,” referring to the zeal with which Republicans attacked and defeated Tom Daschle in 2004. “I must admit there’s probably a degree of payback,” says Schumer. In 2005, every poll showed Casey as Santorum’s toughest opponent, but he was planning to run for governor instead. Meanwhile, a pro-choice Democrat, Barbara Hafer, was already in the race. Schumer plotted with outgoing governor Ed Rendell, who persuaded Hafer not to run. Schumer then worked on Casey, luring him into the race with assurances that he could win and a promise that he would be rewarded with the DSCC’s best campaign manager. (“J.B. has a stable of these guys,” says Schumer, who allocates them according to need.) Schumer knew that the full fury of pro-choice Democrats would rain down on him when Casey announced his candidacy. But that was exactly the point. By pissing off the party’s most loyal supporters, Schumer sent a message that he was serious about winning, one that rippled into other states and helped persuade reluctant recruiting targets to run. “I said, ‘Hey, we have to win!’ If we had 58 seats, maybe you wouldn’t do this, but our back is against the wall,” Schumer says.
Casey now enjoys double-digit leads over Santorum, who is surely the Republican senator most likely to be unemployed come November. Santorum dodged Bush on a recent presidential visit to the state, something unthinkable for a Republican senator two years ago. And instead of running strictly on national security, Santorum has been forced to woo suburban women by softening his religious-conservative image. One of his first ads, “Dreamers,” stars his 14-year-old daughter praising her father’s commitment to education.
In Missouri, a onetime swing state that has become redder and redder in the Bush era, the plan to beat incumbent Jim Talent called for finding a Democrat who could reconnect with the state’s rural, religious population outside the Democratic islands of Kansas City and St. Louis. Once Schumer decided that state auditor Claire McCaskill was that candidate, he courted her with all the ardor of a love-struck teenager. There was rarely a day he didn’t talk to her or send her something. “The No. 1 word that I can use to describe a successful recruiter is relentless,” Schumer says. “You just have to keep calling and calling and calling.”
State by state, Schumer’s operatives have relentlessly spread anti-GOP stories, “taking little things and beating them to death.”
He learned that McCaskill’s new husband, Joseph Shepard, was the problem. So when Schumer heard that the whole McCaskill family would be in London at the same time as the Schumers, he sought them out and organized a dinner, planting himself beside Shepard, a wealthy businessman who invested a good chunk of his real-estate fortune into his wife’s losing 2004 campaign for governor, an office they both still covet. Schumer weaned them off their obsession with the gubernatorial race and assured Shepard that his wife’s Senate job would still have her home to him at a reasonable hour every night, a somewhat dubious promise considering Schumer’s wife lives in New York and most weekdays in Washington he works until midnight. But within two weeks of the London dinner, McCaskill decided to run. “You have to gently envelop the candidate and show them that the Senate is just an incredibly good job,” Schumer says, explaining the recruiting of McCaskill. “I instinctively felt that if we did it with our families, we could make it happen.”
The Missouri race is crucial to understanding the challenge Democrats face this year. Bush’s approval rating may be in the thirties nationally, but it’s higher in Missouri. Washington Democrats may talk of censure, but McCaskill’s campaign wants nothing to do with any of that. Recently, McCaskill has pointedly distanced herself from Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton, and, though pro-choice, has proclaimed, “I am not for abortion.” Races like Missouri will force Senate Democrats in Washington to be extremely vigilant about how bold their agenda gets this year and how much Bush-bashing they do. Although “check on Bush” is the mantra Schumer uses to pull money out of Democratic donors, it’s not necessarily a winning message for all his candidates. In essence, national Democrats can move only as far left as their most conservative Senate candidate in the six target states, four of which were carried by Bush in 2000 and 2004.
So far, McCaskill and her Washington-based colleagues are navigating these shoals effectively. Recent polls show her with a narrow lead over Talent. She has even found a wedge issue to confound Republicans: stem cells. Talent wanted to criminalize a type of stem-cell research requiring embryonic cloning, a position he reversed in February. For weeks, the campaign has been about little else. And taking a page from the Republican playbook of 2004, when the GOP added a gay-marriage initiative to the ballot in Ohio to help maximize conservative turnout, Democrats have added a stem-cell initiative to the ballot in Missouri.
These red-state political moves aren’t just helping Democrats this cycle. They are serving as a road test for the potential platform of the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, whoever that turns out to be. Democratic victories in red states this year will be seized upon by party strategists as pointing the way forward for 2008. In that way, Schumer is helping the party define a kind of centrism that, if successful, could also help win the White House.
In Ohio, Schumer’s aggressive recruiting proved too successful. Iraq veteran Paul Hackett became the darling of liberal Democrats last year by nearly defeating a Republican in a special House election in an extremely pro-Bush Ohio district. He was then pushed into the Senate race by Schumer and Reid, whose first and second choices decided not to run. Schumer’s hard sell even included a call from his wife to Hackett’s wife to allay any spousal concerns. But months later, when the second-choice candidate, Sherrod Brown, changed his mind, Schumer changed his mind about Hackett. Hackett, in turn, quit the race, angrily firing away at Schumer as he left the stage. “Schumer, in particular,” he wrote in a newspaper column, “actively sought to undermine my insurgent campaign, in part by calling up my donors and telling them not to raise money for me, which is like a doctor cutting off oxygen to a patient. He also worked through others to get state and local politicians to publicly urge me to quit.” It worked.
Ohio is now the test case for how much harm corruption scandals have inflicted on the GOP. The Republican governor has pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges for taking gifts. A byzantine scandal regarding a Bush donor who invested part of Ohio’s workers’ compensation fund into rare coins has tarred almost every Republican in the state. Meanwhile, conservatives are fuming at the already vulnerable Republican senator Mike DeWine for signing on to the so-called Gang of Fourteen deal, which prevented Republicans from banning the use of a filibuster to block judicial nominees. The Democratic strategy is simple: a relentless focus on corruption, punctuated more recently by almost Pat Buchanan–like attacks on Arab-owned firms that have anything to do with American security. Brown is a fairly liberal candidate for the state—think a more polished Dennis Kucinich—but the scandals, the Dubai issue, and declining support for Bush and the war have combined to give him a 50-50 chance at victory.
Montana has been a showcase for another skill that Schumer’s DSCC has elevated to an art this cycle—the ability to inject anti-GOP stories into the state press. “This is what the DSCC is good at,” says the Cook Report’s Duffy. “They are good at taking little things and beating them to death.”
In Montana, the story of lobbyist Jack Abramoff has been transformed from an obscure inside-Washington tale into a local Montana feeding frenzy. Republican senator Conrad Burns assisted Abramoff’s Indian clients, and, with some help from Singer at the DSCC, the Montana press has explored every cranny of Burns’s connection to the lobbyist. In 2000, Burns won with only 51 percent, pushed over the edge by Bush’s strong showing in the state. He’s a mediocre campaigner and has been slow to organize. In late March, rumors flew around Washington that he was quitting the race.
But he hasn’t dropped out. Like other GOP candidates, Burns has decided to run on state micro-issues rather than national ones. His latest TV ad isn’t about Iraq but the “scourge [that] is threatening Montana’s children: methamphetamine addiction.” As in Ohio, Democrats are drilling away at GOP scandals, but as in Missouri, they tread carefully around social issues and eschew Bush-bashing. After Santorum, Burns is the most likely Republican to go down this year.
In Rhode Island, Schumer failed to recruit his top candidate. He wanted pro-life congressman Jim Langevin, but a second pro-lifer proved to be too much for many Democrats to take, especially in liberal Rhode Island, and Langevin declined to run. The Republican incumbent is Lincoln Chafee, one of the last GOP moderates from New England left in Congress. Chafee famously refused to vote for Bush in 2004, writing in the name of the president’s father instead. That and other heresies have attracted a conservative primary opponent who is sure to send him into the general election bloodied and weakened. To his credit, Chafee has been unwilling to shift rightward in response. He even said he would consider backing Senator Russ Feingold’s resolution to censure Bush (though he later offered a tortuous clarification). Rhode Island is the bluest state in America with a Republican senator. Bush lost there in 2004 by 21 points, and it is looking increasingly doubtful that Chafee’s storied name (his dad was a senator) or fierce independence can save him in a year with such an anti-Republican undertow.
Finally, in Tennessee, where Majority Leader Bill Frist is retiring to pursue an increasingly quixotic campaign for president, the Republicans have abjectly failed to be as ruthless and top-down as Schumer has been. Instead of handpicking their strongest candidate, the party has allowed a raucous primary to break out, one that won’t end until August 3, which won’t give the eventual winner much time to regroup. Still, it will be a difficult seat for the Democrats to claim. Their nominee, Congressman Harold Ford Jr., has a reputation in Washington for being more of a show horse than a workhorse, and questions of maturity have long dogged him. He seems preoccupied about whether Tennessee is enlightened enough to send a black man to represent it in the Senate or whether he might be blamed for the sins of an uncle caught up in a bribery scandal. Like McCaskill, he has been forced to distance himself from Washington Democrats and stress his opposition to gay marriage and “partial birth” abortion.
Winning all six of these races as well as the open seat in Minnesota while holding on to all their vulnerable incumbents is hardly a sure thing for Democrats. But the national climate is getting more poisonous for the GOP, and polls show that the mood of the country is as sour now as it was at this point in 1994 when Democrats were turned out of power. But it is still a dream.
Some Democrats, however, have been flirting with a slightly altered version of the dream. Wouldn’t it be better, they wonder, if they came close to winning back the Senate this year, but accomplished the task only in 2008? After all, a slim Senate majority would make it difficult to govern, perhaps giving Bush the opportunity to turn the new Senate leadership into a useful foil, just as Bill Clinton did to Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole, and thereby revive his presidency. Furthermore, this alternate dream scenario goes, in 2008, there are 21 Republicans up for reelection and only 12 Democrats. Wouldn’t that be the moment for Democrats to come sweeping back into power?
It would be unusual, but people who have watched Schumer over the past year and a half as he has become increasingly consumed by his DSCC work believe that he would be willing to stay in the job for another two years if he falls short this year. Aides close to him agree. Asked about that scenario, Schumer will only say, “Let’s see how I do this time.”
SCHUMER’S PUNCH LIST
Six states with Republican-held seats are attracting a lot of Chuck Schumer’s attention these days. In each one, there’s good reason to believe that the Democrats could steal the seat if things break their way between now and Election Day.
Schumer showed how far the party is willing to go to win when he made a full-court press to recruit pro-life Bob Casey Jr. to challenge Rick Santorum. A recent poll shows Casey up by double digits.
Claire McCaskill, the state auditor, was more interested in being governor before Schumer started selling her—and her reluctant husband—on the benefits of serving in D.C. Up three over Jim Talent.
The seat that will be vacated by presidential aspirant Bill Frist is being sought by Representative Harold Ford Jr., a onetime rising star who has so far failed to impress insiders with his work ethic.
Schumer switched horses midway, ditching Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett in favor of Sherrod Brown, a liberal almost as far left as Dennis Kucinich. The campaign is focusing on corruption.
The Republican incumbent, Senator Conrad Burns, has been badly weakened by his close association with lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Schumer is neutral about the Democrats running in the primary.
Another primary here for the Democrats—and another weak GOP incumbent. Lincoln Chafee is an old-school New England Republican who is facing his own tough primary from a challenger on the right.