POLITICS
06/23/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Durbin vs. Schumer? Battle For Future Senate Leadership Could Get Awkward

If the 2010 election doesn't go Senator Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) way, and he loses his reelection race to ol' what's her name -- that Chicken Lady -- the Democrats will have to find themselves a new leader in the Senate. And that's where things get interesting!

See, the two leading contenders, Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) are housemates. Awk-ward! I've been hoping for a definitive story on this and am only too happy that it's been delivered by Salon's Mike Madden:

That's the situation Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin could find themselves in this year. Both men may want to take over as Senate majority leader if Harry Reid loses his reelection campaign in November. And both men, when they're not in their respective home states (Illinois for Durbin, New York for Schumer) live together in a Capitol Hill house owned by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., along with Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass. Which means an already delicate situation could wind up being truly weird.

Neither Durbin nor Schumer wants to seem like he's after Reid's job, or to discuss the prospect of seeking it. "They're still friends, and they will be when Harry Reid is reelected, too," Durbin's spokesman, Joe Shoemaker, told me Thursday -- just after saying he was about to hang the phone up, once I started asking questions about a leadership race. At least he answered it; Schumer aides, for their part, didn't even return phone calls.

Is the game afoot? Well, neither senator seems to have positioned himself as a campaigner. While both men have been taking on leadership roles on key issues, Madden reminds us that "it's worth remembering that both Durbin and Schumer already have Senate leadership posts and natural constituencies that can also explain what they're up to."

(My colleague Ryan Grim points out, however, that the potential rivalry was a subject of mirth at the Washington Press Club Foundation dinner, where Senator Claire McCaskill joked about Schumer, calling her night and day. Grim paraphrases: "Fine, she said, you can have my vote for leader. Just stop calling, my husband's getting suspicious.")

Obviously, each man comes with some built-in selling points. Schumer is the ultimate in camera-seasoned politicians, and has assimilated himself pretty seamlessly within the panoply of cable and network news shows. Durbin, of course, enriches the Axis Of Illinois that runs through the White House.

But Durbin definitely emerges as the more sympathetic roommate, especially when you consider Schumer's dietary habits include a sandwich that is, essentially, a Superfund site on a sub roll:

It's the most famous sandwich in New York politics.

Roast beef, banana peppers, pickled jalapeños, extra onions, extra tomatoes, two layers of pickles, mayonnaise and mustard on hearty Italian bread -- it's known as "The Schumwich."

So, yeah: Durbin is definitely the "Felix Ungar" and Schumer is the "Oscar Madison." Happily, neither man seems to be the "Eric Massa."

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