Bredesen is the second Democratic candidate for Senate to suggest that he or she might oppose Schumer, who became the party’s leader in January 2017. Earlier this month, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) told Politico that she was “not going to vote for” Schumer if she joined the Senate next year. Neither Arizona nor Tennessee has sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1994; while Arizona has grown more competitive for Democrats, Tennessee has become a reliably red state.
The pre-emptive skepticism of Schumer resembles the reluctance of many Democratic candidates to back House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for House speaker should her party win this year’s midterm elections. But the jobs are very different. The speaker is elected in a public, roll-call vote at the start of each Congress, with every member weighing in.
The parties’ Senate leaders are chosen after elections, in closed caucus meetings, with the results not revealed to the public. The House speaker must collect 218 votes to take the gavel; a party’s floor leader, in either house, needs only to win a majority of their party’s caucus members.
In the interview, Bredesen said he did not expect Democrats to win a majority this year, given an electoral map with Democrats defending 10 seats in states won by President Trump, and Republicans defending just one seat won by Hillary Clinton.