If Chuck Schumer has a dartboard, chances are there’s a picture of Jon Corzine fastened to its bull’s-eye.
Mr. Schumer, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is charged with leading his party to a Senate majority in next month’s elections, a mission now tantalizingly within reach—if only Mr. Corzine hadn’t gone and appointed Robert Menendez to the Senate.
Mr. Menendez was far from the strongest Senate replacement that Mr. Corzine could have tapped when he gave up his Senate seat for New Jersey’s governorship in January.
In fact, Republicans were downright giddy when Mr. Corzine made his Senate selection: They saw Mr. Menendez as a ticking ethical time bomb. So did Mr. Schumer—who had quietly made clear his preference that Mr. Corzine instead pursue former Governor Richard J. Codey, one of the most popular chief executives in New Jersey’s history.
Although Mr. Menendez may yet go on to win, Mr. Schumer’s apprehension was prescient. Since Labor Day, it has come to light that Mr. Menendez is the subject of a federal investigation, and that his best friend, a New Jersey political powerhouse named Donald Scarinci, was secretly recorded a few years back invoking Mr. Menendez’s name in an alleged shakedown of a Hudson County psychiatrist.
In most any other state, that would have been it for the Democrat. But stunningly, a weekend poll placed Mr. Menendez three points ahead of Tom Kean Jr., a testament, no doubt, to Mr. Menendez’s poise—but also, very likely, to the demonstrated tendency of New Jersey voters not to study up on the candidates until well into October.
For Mr. Schumer, any doubt whatsoever about his party’s grip on a seat in New Jersey—where Democrats are undefeated in the last 10 Senate races—is patently unacceptable. For one thing, bailing out Mr. Menendez with television ads on the New York City and Philadelphia airwaves would cost the DSCC a small fortune—money that Mr. Schumer long ago earmarked for targeting G.O.P. seats, not defending Democratic turf.
But the bigger problem is that Democrats have no margin for error on Election Day, when they must flip six Republican seats to claim a majority—from a pool of, at best, eight plausibly competitive G.O.P. seats. No one thought they’d be in this spot a year ago, but the Democrats are now actually tied with or ahead of the G.O.P. incumbents in Montana, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Ohio and Rhode Island. Sweep those five states and then pull off an upset in Virginia, Tennessee or (a much longer shot) Arizona, and Democrats will hit their magic number.
That, of course, assumes they hold all of their own seats—something that appears to be an issue only in New Jersey, where a loss by Mr. Menendez would essentially hand the Senate to Republicans for another two years. It’s only too easy to imagine that this dread scenario has Mr. Schumer tossing and turning at night.
But here’s the thing: In this particular circumstance, Mr. Schumer may be partly to blame. He has won deserved plaudits for his DSCC stewardship, but at times he’s behaved like a bully, imperiously muscling candidates in and out of races—most notably in Ohio earlier this year. That style, evident not just in Mr. Schumer’s DSCC role, has long rubbed Mr. Corzine, his Senate colleague for the first half of this decade, the wrong way.
“Frankly,” it was Mr. Corzine who cracked in supposed jest a few years back, “sharing a media market with Chuck Schumer is like sharing a banana with a monkey. Take a little bite of it, and he will throw his own feces at you.”
Mr. Schumer, then, might have toned down his act if he had any hopes of dissuading Mr. Corzine from selecting Mr. Menendez for the Senate.
But he didn’t.
Just days after Mr. Corzine won last year’s governor’s race, he paid a very quiet courtesy call on Mr. Schumer and Harry Reid, the Senate’s Democratic leader, to discuss the appointment subject. But within hours—and to Mr. Corzine’s horror—Mr. Schumer had talked to the press about the sit-down. Worse, from Mr. Corzine’s perspective, Mr. Schumer went on to say that he had personally “interviewed” the prospective appointees.
Presumptuousness aside, Mr. Schumer’s real sin was that he embarrassed Mr. Corzine’s friends—Donald Payne and Bill Pascrell, two veteran Congressmen who had publicly expressed interest in the Senate seat, and who were forced to admit that they had never been “interviewed” by Mr. Schumer.
A few weeks later, Mr. Corzine told the world—and Mr. Schumer—that Mr. Menendez was his man.