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Schumer would be first New Yorker to lead party in Senate

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., center,

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., center, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 24, 2015, following a policy luncheon. (L-R) Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash), Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin of Ill., and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY). Credit: AP / Pablo Martinez Monsivais

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Charles Schumer would make history as the first New Yorker to be a party leader in the Senate if he succeeds Minority Leader Harry Reid as expected at the end of next year.

In the top job, Schumer likely would hew to the Democrats' strong focus on the middle class in the legislative agenda that he helped create as he tries to push his party back into the Senate majority, analysts said Friday.

With the backing of Reid and other top Democrats, Schumer also would become the first Jewish party leader, according to the Senate Historical Office.

Schumer would bring to the job a reputation for strong communication and political strategic skills, as well as fundraising prowess.

Schumer, known for his brashness, strong voice and love of the limelight, would bring a distinctly different style and public posture to the Democratic leader's post from Reid, who speaks softly and prefers to work behind the scenes.

Yet since Schumer has worked so closely for the past decade with Reid to set strategy and messaging for the Democratic caucus, analysts said they expect Schumer to largely stay the course.

"There's not likely to be a significant policy change," said Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

But before Schumer can take that next step, he must first win re-election to a fourth term -- a warning the New York State GOP sent Friday.

Schumer would be expected to continue his strong advocacy for his home state, but only within the broader needs of his political caucus, Ornstein said.

Schumer declined to be interviewed for this story.

Schumer, who served 18 years in the House before defeating Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.) in 1998, began his path to the leadership when Reid became Democratic leader in 2005 and tapped Schumer to run the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.

In 2006 Schumer helped Democrats regain control of the Senate and in 2008 the party extended its majority to a filibuster-proof 60 votes. Last year, the GOP won back the majority.

In 2009, Reid rewarded Schumer by naming him chief of policy and messaging, and Friday leapfrogged the third-ranked Schumer over Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), as his preferred successor.

Schumer is seen by many as a centrist -- liberal on social issues and the judiciary but harder-edged on law enforcement, terrorism and Israel.

"His views are well in line with the majority of the caucus," said consultant Jim Manley, a former Reid spokesman.

One area where Schumer differs from some in his party, Ornstein said, is his support for his home state's Wall Street. That has spawned talk of a challenge to Schumer by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a critic of the financial sector.

His bigger worry could be unanticipated political defeats or upheavals in the next 20 months leading up to the Senate Democratic caucus vote that will decide the next leader.

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