Sen. Schumer bets on success for Rangel

Sen. Charles Schumer (D), the de facto leader of New York’s Democratic Party, is throwing his support behind embattled Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.).

Schumer, whose recent success at picking winners among Democrats is well established,  made a $10,000 contribution to Rangel’s reelection campaign in June , breaking what had been a long dry spell of contributions from Democratic lawmakers.

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Schumer’s support comes at a time when a new poll shows that Rangel is battling for his political survival.

A Public Policy Polling survey released Monday showed Rangel winning less than 40 percent of the vote in a primary race. It showed his job approval at 49 percent.

Adam Clayton Powell IV, Rangel’s closest competitor, drew 21 percent support.

It was the first poll of Democrats likely to vote in the Sept. 14 primary.

“It’s a referendum on Rangel, and he’s only got 39 percent support,” said Bob Fertik, president of Democrats.com, a liberal advocacy group that commissioned the poll. “These are very early, hazy numbers that could change significantly. What won’t change are people’s feelings about Rangel.”

Political experts in New York and Washington, however, interpret Schumer’s support as a sign that the architect of the Democratic Senate majority thinks Rangel will survive.

“It’s a sign he thinks the congressman’s reelection is a slam-dunk,” said Scott Levenson, a New York-based political consultant.

Kenneth Sherrill, a political science professor at Hunter College in New York, also said Schumer’s contribution suggests the New York senator believes Rangel will survive.

Sherrill questioned the poll’s methodology and said some of the questions seemed slanted, and the sampling appeared weighted toward older and female voters.

Still, while Rangel has big financial and organizational advantages, Sherrill said “being below 50 percent should be a worry for any incumbent.”

The House ethics committee is expected soon to release the results of an investigation into allegations that Rangel received improper gifts and evaded taxes.

Democratic aides expect it will be harsher than an admonishment the panel gave Rangel in February. If bad news breaks before the primary, it could have a major impact.

If the report is delayed until late September or later, Rangel could hold onto his seat and remain a powerbroker on the Ways and Means panel. He has served on the committee for decades and has a close relationship with the acting chairman, Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.).

A spokesman for Rangel said his boss hoped the ethics inquiry would wrap up quickly.

“We respect the work of the ethics committee and look forward to a speedy resolution of the matters before it,” said the aide.

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Schumer’s $10,000 contribution is an important boost for Rangel because the senator is viewed as the leader of New York’s Democratic establishment and an influential member of the congressional leadership.

“I think it shows Sen. Schumer has confidence that Mr. Rangel will get reelected and get past any issues he has,” said David W. Jones, a partner at Capitol Counsel, a D.C.-based lobbying firm.

The same week as Schumer’s gift, House Democratic Whip James Clyburn (S.C.) gave $2,000 to Rangel’s campaign.

Clyburn and Rangel are both long-time members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The only other Democratic lawmaker to give money to Rangel’s campaign or leadership political action committee (PAC) this cycle was freshman Rep. Paul Tonko (N.Y.). Tonko gave $1,000 to Rangel for his birthday party in August of last year.

Otherwise, Democratic lawmakers have shunned Rangel since he became ensnared in a variety of ethical allegations in the summer of 2008. Since then, Republicans have portrayed him as the poster-child of congressional corruption.

Colleagues held back from giving any significant money to Rangel’s campaign even though he is facing his toughest race in years against four challengers.

He also must pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills because of the allegations.

Rangel became such a political liability for Democrats that several freshman and sophomore lawmakers refunded thousands of dollars in contributions from him.

Federal Election Commission (FEC) records show that vulnerable Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.) refunded $4,000 to Rangel’s campaign account and $10,000 to his leadership PAC.

Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-Ariz.) returned $8,000 to Rangel’s campaign and $20,000 to his leadership fund.

Reps. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) also gave back contributions from Rangel.

Shea-Porter, Mitchell and Titus returned the money after the House ethics committee rebuked Rangel for violating House gift rules by taking corporate-funded trips to the Caribbean.

Soon after the report became public, House Democrats pressured Rangel to step down temporarily as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

While the new poll suggests Rangel could be in for a tough race, he has advantages over his challengers, including name recognition and a sizable mountain of cash.

Rangel has reported $517,000 in the bank. Powell reported less than $50,000.