Senator Charles Schumer, safe for now?

What Senatorial Mischief Will the Democrats Make?

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Ready for some wild and irresponsible speculation? It’s about how Senator Charles Schumer and a few other Democratic stalwarts could find themselves in trouble soon. How's that, you ask?

Again, this is purely speculative, but here goes. It starts with the apparent coronation of Hillary Clinton as Democratic presidential nominee without a serious challenge. Although that’s not a sure thing, it’s clearly possible, and perhaps probable, as of now.

If that did happen, an army of Democratic activists, donors and busybodies would be unexpectedly idle in the last months of 2015 and the first half of 2016. Campaign operatives, too; a nomination-by-acclamation Clinton will be spending plenty of money in early 2016 anyway and keeping plenty of people on her payroll, but presumably not as many as would be hired if there were several campaigns.

Then, many of those activists, donors and operatives would try to keep busy by shifting to the many Democratic Senate pickup opportunities.

And those who are itching for a party fight -- and although there’s no Democratic equivalent to the Tea Party, there surely are plenty of Democrats who are impatient with their party on all sorts of issues – may become foot soldiers for primary challenges to a few Democratic incumbents.

There are 10 of those, and their ranks may be reduced by retirements; all are reliable liberals, from either solidly Democratic areas or swing states. None of them is a Joe Lieberman, far more conservative than the state can support. But it’s not hard to imagine New York liberals finding reasons to be upset with Schumer, a classic dealmaker who, as New York senators tend to be, is more sympathetic to Wall Streetthan most Democrats. Or one could imagine Colorado liberals believing that Michael Bennet is too moderate. Or Vermont Democrats upset that Senator Pat Leahy allowed Republican blue slip obstruction on judges. In Oregon, Ron Wyden tends to be idiosyncratic, albeit perfectly liberal, and that offers plenty of ammunition for a challenge.

OK, none of the 10 Democrats up in 2016 should be vulnerable to a challenge. And we haven’t seen a purely discipline-by-example challenge on the Democratic side come anywhere close to succeeding, even as Republicans have repeatedly unseated or come close to unseating mainstream conservatives over the last few cycles. But anecdotally, there are at least some liberals who envy the Tea Party and its primary challenges, and it’s not at all difficult to imagine one or two improbable candidates gaining some momentum.

I’m not predicting it will happen, I'm just saying the conditions are there.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net