The battle for 2020: Possible Democratic presidential nominees
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is trying to win the presidency by connecting with one voter at a time, playing the long game in a large field with only a few top-tier candidates carrying name recognition or newfound celebrity.
Gillibrand has neither, but by many media accounts, she’s not worried. From coffee shops in New Hampshire and Iowa, the junior senator from New York has described her strategy as a “marathon, not a sprint.” The New York attorney, born to a family with influence in Albany politics, has shown no frustration over her lack of traction in a cramped race.
She’s cast herself as a serious contender who can win against President Donald Trump, a champion for women’s reproductive rights and a fighter against sexual abuse and harassment in the era of #MeToo. When former Minnesota Sen. Al Franken was accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, Gillibrand led the charge on demanding his resignation. He eventually resigned.
Her campaign slogan: “Brave wins.”
A former congresswoman who represented a conservative district in upstate New York, Gillibrand has held positions that reflected her constituents and likely cause voters on the left to bristle — she once had an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, opposed amnesty for undocumented immigrants and supported increased funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This year, she said she was “ashamed” of her past stances at a CNN town hall.
Since being appointed Hillary Clinton’s successor in the Senate in 2009, Gillibrand’s policies have shifted further left. The New York Times reported on her leftward movement in July 2018, six months before she announced her presidential bid, outlining a series of votes, bill sponsorships and policy stances through which she has tilted toward the increasingly progressive leanings of the Democratic party.
Soon after becoming a senator, she earned an “F” rating from the NRA, voting against the organization’s entire agenda within two years. She’s called for abolishing ICE. In January, The Washington Post reported that she has voted against Trump’s agenda more than any other senator.
“I think it’s important to know when you’re wrong and to do what’s right. And I will do what’s right, and I will fight for what’s right, and I don’t back down from those fights,” she said at a news conference in January.
Her transformation does not appear to be moving voters enough to push her into the Democratic forefront. In fact, Gillibrand is polling far behind most of the other 22 candidates with just a 0.3% share of the vote, according to RealClearPolitics. The Buffalo News recently interviewed many voters in New Hampshire who either didn’t know enough about her to have an opinion or favored other candidates.
Still, Gillibrand has stuck to her ground-game campaign in advance of the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.
“I have faith in the process,” she told the New York Times in May, “and the American people.”
Gillibrand, one of six women vying for the Democratic nomination, has made women and families a centerpiece of her campaign. She’s proposed a “Family Bill of Rights” that would fund a sweeping set of benefits for mothers and young children, including a starter kit for an infant’s first month at home (“baby bundles”), universal pre-K and a national paid family leave program.
The senator, who has benefited from the support of Wall Street in past campaigns, wants to reduce the role special-interest dollars play in politics. She has a “clean elections” plan where each voter would receive $200 to donate for each presidential election. Vox Media explained the theory behind the pitch: More voters to be more involved in politics since they would receive government vouchers to contribute, and with more voters donating, the volume of small donors would counteract massive contributions from wealthy donors.
The use of “Democracy Dollars,” as they are called, would be a scaled-up version of a program that exists in Seattle.
“For too long, small groups of wealthy donors have had outsized influence over our government,” wrote Gillibrand, in a Medium post debuting her proposal. “These groups also tend to be disproportionately white and male. My plan would flip the equation — empowering more women and people of color to have a say in our government and set our course for a more equal and just future.”
About Kirsten Gillibrand
▪ Current or most recent position: Gillibrand has represented New York in the Senate since 2009.
▪ Other elected offices: She represented New York’s 20th congressional district from 2007 to January 2009.
▪ Occupation: For a decade, she worked as a corporate lawyer at David Polk & Wardwell
▪ Education: Dartmouth College, A.B., 1988; University of California, Los Angeles, J.D., 1991
▪ Age: 52
▪ Residence: Brunswick, New York
▪ Family: Husband John Gillibrand, sons Theodore and Henry
▪ Campaign website: kirstengillibrand.com
▪ Small donors: According to the Federal Elections Commission, about 16% of contributions from individuals to Gillibrand’s campaign came from donors who gave less then $200.
▪ Big donors: Gillibrand has joined other Democrats in rejecting donations from corporate political action committees, a previously reliable source for contributions to her campaigns.
Some of Gillibrand’s top donors include Robert Zochowski, a partner at law firm Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison; Sujatha Zafar, a client manager at executive search firm Audeliss; actress Reese Witherspoon; Gage Young, art director at marketing and advertising agency R/GA; and fine art photographer Torrance York.
▪ Fun fact: Gillibrand speaks Mandarin Chinese.; she studied in Taiwan and China during undergrad.
▪ On the issues: She supports Medicare for All. She has a plan for a “Family Bill of Rights” that includes a set of benefits for families with newborns and young children. She wants to reform campaign finance by giving all voters vouchers so they can donate $200 during presidential campaigns. More of Gillibrand’s policy positions can be found on her website.
Sources of biographical information: The Kirsten Gillibrand Campaign, CNN, The Albany Times Union, The New York Times