Can Gillibrand Contend?

by Pitt Griffin on March 20, 2019 · 0 comments

in Election 2020, Politics

Kirsten Gillibrand is one of a large – and expanding – field of candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. In an era of progressive resurgence, she is a retro-style conservative Democrat. In large part, because she established her political positions as a Representative in a conservative district in upstate New York.

Running for Senate she moved left to reflect the more liberal statewide views of the New York electorate. And, more importantly, to reflect the politics of the national Democratic base. She had to go from collecting votes in small towns and rural counties to one who had to appeal to voters in New York City and California.

Once in the Senate, her most notorious moment was her demand that Al Franken resign when pictures of him leering over a sleeping Leeann Tweeden while apparently grabbing her breasts on a USO tour. She announced he had to go and became a vocal advocate for his departure.

It didn’t go as well as she might have expected. Gillibrand calculated that the #MeToo movement demanded absolutism on politicians and other men who were accused of sexual assault. She miscalculated. Democrats saw her enthusiastic attacks on Franken as premature and ill-considered.

She upset progressives who thought she was not giving Franken the opportunity to defend himself. They thought he had the right to explain his behavior, and the photograph, before the Senate ethics committee. Especially as it would have given him the opportunity to stay in the Senate and remain a vocal champion of liberal politics

It rankled progressives that Franken had been forced out at a time when conservatives, including the President, could skate on ‘pussy grabbing’ and other tales of sexual aggression. Liberals wondered why Franken, whose ‘crime’ seemed lesser, should be Gillibrand’s focus. To some, her actions smacked of political expedience and cold calculation.

No matter how honestly she may have come about her position, to many she was seen as cynically catering to the women’s movement that is destined to have an enormous influence in deciding the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. And in turn the presidential race itself.

Gillibrand has taken an aggressive stance against those who have questioned her on this. She said he said that if big donors were to shun her campaign, that would be ‘on them.’ It’s not a good look. It’s a political truism that if you are explaining you are losing.

Further, even if she is excused her Franken opportunism, she has the albatross of a sexual abuse claim in her own office. A staffer claimed that campaign employee Abbas Malik was harassing her. Gillibrand refused to fire him – and only did so after outside sources presented her with corroborating evidence she could have quickly discovered for herself.

Even if she dodges the hypocrisy charges, she faces formidable opposition from other women – including women of color.

In California, African-American Kamala Harris represents another big liberal coastal state – one with even more Electoral College clout.

Even among white, female candidates, Gillibrand is hardly the leading choice. Amy Klobuchar has the midwestern credibility that will prove crucial against Trump, who picked up so many Electoral College votes in the rust belt.

Elizabeth Warren is beloved by many liberals for her unabashed spanking of both banks and the regulators who oversee them.

Then there are the white men. Two stand out – Bernie Sanders with his rabid base and questionable relations with minorities, and Beto O’Rourke with his own army of devoted small donors and his centrist baggage.

Will Gillibrand be the Democratic nominee? She doesn’t lead in the polls (tied for 9th at 1%) or the odds (66 to 1 against), but it is early days yet. However, if she does want a shot at the brass ring she needs to fight on her high ground and not on the territory her enemies pick.

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