LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - President Barack Obama plans to campaign in Nevada this weekend for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a key Democratic ally battling for political survival.
Reid is in jeopardy of becoming just the third Senate leader in nearly 60 years to be booted out of office by home-state voters.
If Reid is defeated in the U.S. congressional elections on November 2, his Senate colleagues would move quickly to pick a successor. Depending on whether Democrats retain control of the Senate, they will pick a new majority or minority leader.
Either way, here is a look at the potential contest:
With Reid having been in trouble with voters for more than a year, Senate Democrats have had plenty of time to consider a possible replacement.
Top contenders are Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dick Durbin and Senator Charles Schumer, who as vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Conference is the chamber’s No. 3 Democrat.
Neither has emerged as the frontrunner.
DURBIN AND SCHUMER’S STRENGTHS
Durbin has closer ties to Obama and was among the first to urge him to enter the 2008 presidential race. At the time, they were Senate colleagues, both representing Illinois.
Schumer may have closer relations with a number of senators, particularly moderates. Schumer helped many of them win their seats in the 2006 and 2008 elections when he headed the Senate Democratic campaign committee.
Schumer has been at the forefront of efforts in Congress to punish China for keeping its currency artificially high.
Unlike Reid, who often talks in a near whisper, Durbin and Schumer are both strong speakers and project well on television.
VOTE WHEN CONGRESS RETURNS
Senate Democrats would vote in a secret ballot after Congress returns to work on November 15. Leadership contests are normally held in late November or early December during organizing meetings for the upcoming Congress.
In a high-profile race, such as for a Senate Democratic or Republican leader, the results could be apparent ahead of time if lawmakers are willing to make their intentions known.
LAST DEFEATED SENATE LEADER
In 2004, Democrat Tom Daschle of South Dakota was the last Senate leader to be voted out of office. Republicans made him their top target, calling him “the chief obstructionist” to Republican President George W. Bush’s conservative agenda.
Daschle was the first Senate leader to be defeated since 1952, when Democrat Ernest McFarland of Arizona was unseated by Republican Barry Goldwater.
HOPEFULS MAY CAMPAIGN ON ELECTION NIGHT
If and when Reid is declared defeated, potential successors may begin calling other Senate Democrats to line up support.
That is what Reid did in 2004 when it became clear that Daschle would lose. Reid, then assistant Senate Democratic leader, quickly announced he had secured the votes for the job.
WHY HAVE SO FEW SENATE LEADERS BEEN DEFEATED?
Senate leaders have routinely been re-elected because they pack plenty of clout and can deliver for their constituents.
In 2004, Reid won a fourth six-year term in the Senate with 61 percent of the vote. He was hurt this year by a weak economy that has fanned an anti-Washington fervor and given rise to the anti-establishment Tea Party movement that made him a top target.
Reporting by Thomas Ferraro in Washington; Editing by John O’Callaghan
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