With all the drama flooding the news cycle over the past week, this story could have easily flown under the radar. One of the names most commonly mentioned as a possible 2020 Democratic nominee is New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. She’s currently engaged in a re-election bid, however, and she participated in a debate against her Republican opponent Chele Farley on Thursday night. During the questioning, one of the moderators asked Gillibrand why she was sitting on so much campaign cash (in excess of $10M) and if that meant she was plotting a POTUS run. In fact, the question was asked twice in the most direct fashion possible. In what came as a rather shocking answer (at least to me), Gillibrand flatly stated that if she won another term she would serve the full six years in the upper chamber. (Free Beacon)
“Senator Gillibrand, you have not spent a lot of money in this reelection campaign for U.S. Senate. In fact, you have millions of dollars in your campaign coffers. Many, including your opponent, say you are saving that money to gear up for a presidential run in 2020. Can you tell New Yorkers, who plan to vote for you on November 6, that you will, if reelected, serve out your six-year Senate term?” the debate moderator asked.
Gillibrand responded, “I will.” She then started talking about how she has hosted 16 town halls and visited 60 counties, adding that she cares about reaching out to her constituents because wants to represent them.
“Just want to make this clear, you’re saying that you will not get out of the race and you will not run for president? You will serve your six years?” the moderator asked.
“I will serve my six-year term,” Gillibrand responded.
There you have it. Normally we hear candidates dancing around the question, saying that they “have no plans” at this time or that they are “focusing on their current election.” Gillibrand didn’t do that. She said the words. “I will serve my six-year term.”
Of course, stories about politicians lying or going back on their word later rank right up there with dog-bites-man reports. Having that clip lingering in the background wouldn’t be helpful in a primary bid, however, and the anticipated, highly crowded Democratic field would no doubt jump all over it.
But perhaps, in this case, she’s telling the truth. Gillibrand may indeed have read the tea leaves and decided already that 2020 wasn’t her time. First, as I just mentioned, she would be facing a large field full of some heavy hitters with plenty of national name recognition. If Gillibrand is confident that Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris are all running she might not bring enough to the table to make it through the first round. Also, she no doubt saw that CNN poll from a couple of weeks ago which showed Biden with a massive lead and had her rattling around somewhere near the bottom in single digits.
But Gillibrand would be a problematic primary candidate anyway. Those who aren’t familiar with her early career in New York politics may not be aware of it, but she’s got some history to overcome if she wants to win over the far left progressive base. When she was in Congress representing the 20th District, she wasn’t just a moderate. She was frequently labeled a “conservative Democrat.” On the campaign trail, she railed against amnesty for illegal aliens, vowed to get spending in Washington under control and swore to protect the Second Amendment rights of her constituents.
In 2009 when she was appointed to fill Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat, the Daily Beast called Gillibrand, “a bizarro version of Sarah Palin.” Maureen Dowd described her as, “an N.R.A. handmaiden in Bobby Kennedy’s old seat.” A search of the old archives of local media outlets in New York from that period turns up plenty more quotes of that nature.
None of those things would particularly harm Gillibrand in a general election bid against Trump because she would need to at least attempt to run to the center. But she’d have to get through the primary first and her potential Democratic opponents no doubt already have folders full of those clippings ready to unleash during the debates. Gillibrand has done a complete about-face since taking her seat in the Senate, molding herself into the most liberal figure imaginable on every issue across the board, completely contradicting the things she claimed to stand for when she was in serving in the House. She’s a complete opportunist in that regard, but then again, she’s a politician. But all of that material is still out there waiting to be resurrected, and perhaps she’s giving up on her presidential aspirations because she’s knows those quotes are out there, waiting to come back and bite her.