Foss: Don’t count Gillibrand out just yet

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand tours Schenectady Steel Company in April 2018.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand tours Schenectady Steel Company in April 2018.

As Democratic presidential candidates go, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is a bit of a long shot. 

But I wouldn’t count her out. 

And I’d certainly give her a better chance of emerging from a crowded field — there are, as best I can tell, approximately three dozen people vying for the Democratic nomination in 2020 — than Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Gillibrand has always been an astute politician. 

She’s also been a fortunate one, which might explain why she’s throwing her hat into the ring despite her relatively low odds. 

Frankly, if anyone ought to understand the role timing, circumstances and luck play in politics, it’s Gillibrand. 

She might be a long shot now, but if experience has taught her anything, it’s that the political landscape is prone to sudden and surprising shifts. 

She took on a powerful incumbent — former U.S. Rep. John Sweeney — just as his personal life and political career were unraveling, undone by reports of alcoholism and domestic violence. 

She spent just two years in the House of Representatives before getting plucked from relative obscurity — i.e., upstate New York — to fill the vacant Senate seat created when former president Barack Obama appointed Hillary Clinton secretary of state. 

Since then, Gillibrand’s star has continued to rise and her outspokenness on sexual assault in the military and on campus have made waves nationally

So I understand why Gillibrand is recruiting staff for a presidential campaign, eyeing her home base of Rensselaer County — Troy, specifically — for her headquarters and planning a visit to Iowa. She’s already been to New Hampshire, another crucial campaign state. 

But there’s a part of me that thinks Gilllibrand’s star has dimmed in the past two years. 

Given how astute Gillibrand can be, I was surprised last week to read that she was contacting Wall Street executives to determine whether they’d support a presidential run. 

Considering how poorly Clinton’s coziness with Wall Street played with both the Democratic base and the public at large, this seemed like a terrible decision. If there’s one thing that could derail a Gillibrand campaign, it’s the perception that she’s too friendly with the financial industry. 

As Ryan Cooper, a columnist for The Week, wrote in 2017, Gillibrand would make a fine presidential candidate if not for Wall Street. “If she wants to lock up the next Democratic presidential primary, she would be wise to make herself absolutely loathed by the banker class. … It will be tough — Gillibrand is married to a banker — but a good first step would be to contemptuously refuse all donations from finance for her upcoming reelection campaign.” 

It’s good advice, but Gillibrand’s Wall Street overtures suggest she has no intention of taking it, which is a shame. 

The other reason Gillibrand’s national profile has taken a hit stems from her calls for former Minnesota Senator Al Franken, a Democrat, to resign over accusations of sexual misconduct. 

She is widely viewed as leading the charge within the party to get Franken to step down, and recent articles have suggested that powerful Democratic donors have soured on her because of it. 

Which is also a shame, because the allegations against Franken were serious and the Senate is better off without him. Of course, it’s possible that Gillibrand’s role in ridding the Senate of Franken will play well on the campaign trail and help her distinguish herself from other candidates.

The field will likely include a number of high-profile Democrats, including senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders and former vice president Joe Biden. 

Can Gillibrand convince voters to support her over those other candidates?  

I don’t know. 

But I’m excited to find out.

Gillibrand’s political career has been anything but predictable, and with any luck, her run for president will be, too. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. 

Categories: News, Opinion

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