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Why Harry Reid Chose Chuck Schumer

Why did Harry Reid pick Chuck Schumer over Dick Durbin, another member of the Democratic leadership, to succeed him as the party’s leader in the Senate? From a statistical standpoint, three numbers jump out.

First, Schumer and Reid have very similar voting records. According to DW-Nominate scores1 taken since Reid first became Democratic leader in 2005, Schumer has voted more in sync with Reid than any other Democratic senator (not counting senators who have announced they will retire). Durbin, by contrast, was the 25th most like Reid.

Second, Schumer is a relentless fundraiser, which is one of the main responsibilities of a party’s leader. Previously, I looked at how much Democratic governors and senators exceeded fundraising expectations2 in their last reelection campaign. Even controlling for Schumer’s wealthy fundraising base in New York, he still ranked seventh in besting expectations. Durbin, on the other hand, was the 42nd best fundraiser out of the 67 Democrats I examined.

Third, Schumer has been a tireless advocate in the media, which makes him well-positioned to articulate Democrats’ position on various policy issues. Among Senate Democrats, Schumer has made the second most appearances on the Sunday political talk shows (although this is one metric where Durbin comes out on top; he’s No. 1). Schumer has double the number of Facebook and Twitter followers as Durbin. In fact, Schumer has more than double the Twitter followers of any other senator thought to be in serious contention to be Democratic leader.

Schumer is the one plausible candidate for Democratic leader who combines ideological closeness with Reid with fundraising and media prowess. And his path into the position seems almost assured; Durbin has already indicated he’ll back Schumer.

Related: Nate Silver wrote about how Reid’s retirement affects Democrats’ chances in Nevada.


  1. We used a DW-Nominate scale that was calibrated to just senators.

  2. As I wrote on Thursday, “Factors such as whether a candidate is running for statewide or federal office, whether she’s an incumbent, the competitiveness of her election and the size of her home-state donor base all affect fundraising.”

Harry Enten was a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.