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Schumer campaigns by not campaigning

WBFO File Photo

It looks like U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer will be re-elected to a fourth term on Nov. 8, barring any major turn of events. He’s about 40 points ahead of his nearest opponent in the polls, and the bigger question now is: Will Schumer be the next Senate minority leader or majority leader?

Schumer is running for re-election, but he’s not exactly campaigning. He’s mostly just continuing what he’s been doing for years — relentlessly traveling New York state, focusing on local issues. 

In Buffalo, he wrangled a $17 million grant stalled for years that will, among other things, help make the former Bethlehem Steel site more attractive to new buyers.

“After this decade-long bureaucratic tug of war,” Schumer said, “we were able to break through the red tape.”

In Schenectady, he escorted the federal railroad administrator to inspect train tracks that he believes should be eligible for federal funds to install the safety feature known as Positive Train Control.

“There is money there; why shouldn’t it go to New York?” Schumer said.

In New York City, he called for new rules that would force speeding trailer trucks to slow down.

Schumer has not held traditional rallies to promote his candidacy, ceremonially opened campaign offices or any of the things candidates normally do. That’s partly because Schumer is nearly 40 points ahead of his Republican opponent, Wendy Long, and is consistently one of the most popular politicians in New York.

But the 65-year-old three-term senator, who beat Al D’Amato to win the seat back in 1998, said he’d rather just keep to his normal schedule traveling the state, and let the politics work themselves out.

“The best way to get re-elected is to just do your job,” Schumer said. “I’m not overtly campaigning.”

The time that Schumer does not have to spend on a competitive re-election race is used in helping other Democratic candidates get elected to the U.S. Senate. Schumer, who ran the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee from 2005 until 2009, is often advising other candidates in between his New York appearances.

“I’m on the phone talking to the candidates all the time,” he said.

If Democrats retake the Senate, Schumer will be the majority leader; he’s already been chosen as Democratic leader.

Siena College polls spokesman Steve Greenberg said that could be a boon for the state, and New Yorkers are aware of that.

“A lot of New Yorkers know what that means, potentially, in terms of his ability to help New York,” Greenberg said.

The most recent Siena poll has Schumer at 66 percent. Long is at 27 percent.

Schumer has about $25 million in his campaign account, and he’s transferred some of it to help other Democrats across the country.

Long has less than a half-million dollars, and she has not gained much attention, though she’s been actively campaigning. A 56-year-old attorney from New York City who once clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Long holds a weekly town hall-style meeting on Facebook Live.

She recently attended a Women for Trump rally. Long, unlike some other GOP candidates in New York, is solidly for the Republican presidential candidate. A staunch conservative, Long said she’s moved past Donald Trump’s remarks about allegedly sexually assaulting women and has accepted his apology over the statements.

She admits that she’s a long shot for the Senate.

“It’s a tough road for sure,” Long said. “But it’s a road that’s well worth traveling. Because I believe our country’s at stake.”

Long said she wants to shake up things up in Washington. And she said Schumer and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton are part of the problem.

“They are both the face of the corrupt, failed establishment,” Long said. “That’s been running this country for a very long time.”

Schumer is on his way to what could potentially be an historic margin of victory on Nov. 8, but he’s not talking about that now.

“Let’s not gild the lily,” Schumer said in answer to a reporter’s question. “I’m hoping to win.”

New York’s other U.S. senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, holds the record for the biggest landslide for a Senate win. Her opponent, four years ago: Wendy Long.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.