Why Chuck backed Hillary Clinton. And why now.

November 4, 2013

It's 788 days until the calendar turns to 2016, but that didn't stop New York Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) from endorsing former secretary of state Hillary Clinton's unannounced candidacy in the next presidential election on Saturday night in Iowa.

"Run, Hillary, Run," Schumer said during his keynote address at an Iowa Democratic Party event. "If you run, you’ll win, and we’ll all win."


Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks at a press conference at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 16. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Schumer's endorsement of a non-candidate more than two-plus years before any voting will take place raises two obvious questions: (1) why? and (2) why now?

The first question is easily answered.  Schumer was always going to endorse Clinton -- or at least the idea of Clinton -- for president. The two served together in the Senate for a time in the early 2000s, and, as one ally of the senator reminded us, he was the first senator to endorse Clinton's first presidential bid in 2008.

The "why now" question is more complicated and, for that reason, intriguing.

We reached out to a number of Schumer allies in search of answers and got a number of interesting responses back.

"He was going to be for her one way or the other, so why not get it done now?" explained one, granted anonymity to explain the senator's private thinking. "He's [got] nothing to lose -- if she runs, he's in early; if she doesn't, he can endorse someone later."

Endorsing Clinton in Iowa -- and as we have long said, no politician goes to Iowa by accident -- simply ups the intrigue and resultant media coverage. Remember, too, that Schumer wants to be the next Senate majority/minority leader when Harry Reid (D-Nev.) decides not to run again. (Reid will be 75 years old when he is up for reelection in 2016.) "Be close to the likely nominee [and] potential president to be the next likely majority leader," explained New York-based Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf about Schumer's thinking.

Others noted that Schumer -- dating all the way back to his days as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee --  is a big believer in getting behind the strongest potential candidate as early as possible to avoid a contentious (and expensive) primary fight. "This is a way to continue building institutional support for the nominee most likely to win a general," said one Schumer backer. "Presidential primaries can be divisive, especially an open-seat primary as 2016 will be." (Endorsing early might have other benefits for Schumer as well, freeing up New York City money to be donated down-ballot to, say, Senate races come 2016.)

Schumer's decision to get behind Clinton was about her (of course) but also about him (also, of course). Schumer, like most highly skilled politicians, never does anything by accident. This endorsement is no different.

Fixbits: 

President Obama stumped with Virginia gubernatorial front-runner Terry McAuliffe (D).

Mitt Romney said problems with Obamacare are "rotting" the president's second term.

Neither candidate in Alabama's 1st district Republican runoff would commit to supporting another term as speaker for John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) defended himself against plagiarism charges.

Republicans were dealt a recruiting blow when former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker announced he would not run for Florida's 18th district seat.

Some Texas tea party activists want evangelical historian David Barton to run against Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.).

Democrat Joe Bock is expected to announce he will run against Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.).

Some influential Republicans were looking for a "white knight" in 2012.

Must-reads: 

"New Jersey’s Chris Christie looks to send a message to GOP with his reelection campaign" -- Dan Balz, Washington Post

"Senate Vote on Workplace Bias Against Gays Poses a Test for the G.O.P." -- Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times

"Rep. Matt Cartwright, loyal Democrat, stands by health-care law, takes stage to defend it" -- Ed O'Keefe, Washington Post

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Chris Cillizza | November 3, 2013