Congressional leaders can never forecast their retirement too far ahead of time. As soon as they confirm their departure, they lose some of their authority -- and they kick off the succession race, which can lead to dissension and division.
Therefore, you should take it with a grain of salt when Reid's spokesman denies that he's thinking of hanging it up:
Although Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is sending all the right signals that he will run for re-election in 2010, the possibility that he might choose to retire has fueled speculation that a three-way race to succeed him atop the party could ensue among his top two lieutenants — Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Charles Schumer (N.Y.) — and Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.).
Sources both on and off Capitol Hill say while neither Durbin, Schumer nor Dodd openly is discussing a future leadership bid, they are emerging as the most obvious Majority Leader candidates among powerful lobbyists, donors and Democratic lawmakers. Talk of a rivalry among the prominent trio is growing even as Reid appears poised to run for another six-year term, a move that, if successful, would give the Nevada Democrat a chance to hold the party’s top leadership slot for more than a decade.
“Get in line and get used to waiting because Sen. Reid isn’t going anywhere anytime soon,” said the Majority Leader’s spokesman, Jim Manley, dismissing any chatter to the contrary as “inside the Beltway parlor games.”
Roll Call then goes on to say that at least one lobbyist close to the situation says the succession race is 'active.' Are you as surprised as I am that Chris Dodd is hedging his bets in case he doesn't get elected President?
A three-way race among Dodd, Durbin, and Schumer would be interesting. First off, any one of those leaders would give the Senate Democrats a leader who was unlikely to face re-election trouble at home (in contrast to Tom Dasche and Senator Reid). It would also ensure that the next Democratic leader would be from a 'big' state. Traditionally leaders come from smaller states (Nevada, South Dakota, Maine...), partly out of concern of giving undue influence to a populous Democratic state.
Further, the political climate in 2009 will factor in as well. Will Democrats gain a large number of seats in 2008? Will there be an unpopular Democratic president to defend in 2010? Will Reid's re-election prospects remain poor, or improve?
All worth watching down the road.