U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer has represented New York state for more than a decade with little serious opposition, but a funny thing happened on the way to Election Day this year: He picked up a challenge from a comedian activist.
Randy Credico's race against the formidable incumbent is already drawing celebrity intrigue, with "Seinfeld'' co-creator Larry David offering support for his fellow comic.
"I thought he was joking,'' David said. "Charles Schumer is not going to be that comfortable with this. ... It's not a stunt.''
Credico has also had support from comic actor Charles Grodin, and "Land of the Lost'' co-creator Marty Krofft. Credico hopes to take on Schumer in a primary for the Democratic line, but he's also talking to officials in the Libertarian party.
He wouldn't be the first comic in the Senate: "Saturday Night Live'' alumnus Al Franken, a Democrat, is the junior senator from Minnesota.
"He just believes in his own principles,'' said Krofft, creator of shows including "H.R. Pufnstuf,'' with his brother, Sid. "If he would win, he would do great, because he has a great sense of humor and does impersonations of every big politician in the country. Randy Credico could do a debate with Schumer without Schumer being there.''
The senator from Brooklyn is a policy wonk, known for his dark suits, serious demeanor and Sunday press conferences. Schumer prides himself on visiting all the state's 62 counties every year and has been described as one of the hardest-working politicians in Washington -- and one of the most media-savvy.
Credico is a recovered cocaine addict who mines his drug years for jokes. He's an impressionist and a political activist with a shaky grasp on the present, so what he says is more stream of consciousness than gospel.
That's why he's running. He's trying to finish his memoir but has years of blank periods from drug use. He figures, what better way to get dirt dredged up on you than run for office?
"If I get close to winning this thing, I'll find out,'' he joked.
He's spoken out for years against what had been long, mandatory sentences of New York state's drug laws and has helped push for clemency for a number of men and women who he believes have been harshly sentenced or falsely accused of crimes.
"I just think he's a tremendous person,'' said Grodin, who helped Credico fight unjust imprisonments. "Would he be a better senator than Schumer? He'll always tell the blunt truth. Now will that make him a better senator? I don't know.''
Credico has a platform -- he supports decriminalizing drugs and ending the drug war, opposes gun control, supports an immediate military pullout from Afghanistan and Iraq and a ban on torture. But mostly he's about "Dump Schumer.''
Schumer, who declined to comment, is currently third in the Senate power hierarchy and could be the next Senate majority leader if Harry Reid isn't re-elected. Credico said that grab for power has distracted the vice chairman of the Democratic Conference from working for New Yorkers.
"He's more concerned about power than he is about empowering people in the state,'' Credico said.
Credico is known in Albany for his stunts -- he once dressed up as ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes and attended a state Senate committee meeting saying he was looking for "one honest politician.''
"That can be kind of polarizing,'' Grodin said.
Credico had a shot at comic stardom when he went on "The Tonight Show'' in 1984, but he went against all of his friends' advice and included an impersonation of Johnny Carson in his set. Between that and railing against U.S. foreign policy, the host didn't give Credico his seal of approval -- a wave over to the chair for an interview -- and Credico's career took a different turn.
Despite Credico's uncommon schtick, and voters hungry for something different as shown in January's U.S. Senate win by a Republican in Massachusetts, Schumer doesn't have much to fear. First elected in 1998, Schumer won with 71 percent of the vote in his last election and has $19.3 million in campaign funds at the ready, according to the latest campaign finance records. Credico has filed reports saying he has just $2,235 in his coffers, but he says he's raised about $20,000 plus $4,000 of his own money since the end of the last reporting period.
Schumer is "a very strong candidate, and a very strong incumbent,'' said Gerald Benjamin, a political scientist and former dean at SUNY New Paltz.
Credico said he doesn't mind if Schumer doesn't take him seriously because that will allow him to quietly build support.
"I think he would be more than a breath of fresh air,'' David said. "He would be a tornado. Of fresh air.''