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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Why Gillibrand will be hard to beat

(The picture is Jefferson Chair Sean Hennessey and Senator Gillibrand. The commentary is by Dan Jacoby originally posted on The Albany Project blog)

There has been a lot of talk, and some action, regarding attempts to unseat Senator Gillibrand. Several people, on both sides of the political aisle, have been mentioned as possible contenders, and a couple of them have gone so far as to form exploratory committees.
They all have one serious problem -- Kirsten Gillibrand is an extremely bright, politically savvy person who can raise an enormous amount of money. She comes from a politically active family, and has shown the rare ability to rise above her early indoctrination (her father was a Republican lobbyist, and her first political job was as an intern for Al D'Amato).

Since becoming a Senator, her views on guns and gays have "evolved," to use the popular buzz word. She has spoken publicly in support of universal healthcare coverage, including a public option. These positions will win her downstate votes. They may cost her something upstate, but not much.

The main reason for assuming continued strength upstate is that none of her potential challengers comes from anywhere farther north than Peekskill, and all but one of them hail from NYC or Long Island. Senator Gillibrand is positioning herself brilliantly, both on issues and geographically.

In a primary, she will win upstate handily, and between her evolution on issues and the support of Senator Schumer she will gain plenty of downstate votes to win. In a general election she will do even better, earning a lot of upstate Republican votes as well as virtually every Democratic vote in the state (can you see a Democrat voting for George Pataki or Peter King?).

Even Rep. Israel would have been at a serious disadvantage. For every upstate vote he gets, he loses two or three from NYC. If he tries to focus on NYC/Long Island, he loses by such an enormous margin upstate that there is no way he makes up for it.

As for Gillibrand's potential primary challengers:
Steve Israel is out.

Scott Stringer is not a threat.

Carolyn McCarthy's only obvious issue with Gillibrand is guns. It may have won her the House seat she still holds (and it didn't help that she had been a Republican prior to the tragedy that led to her new career), but it's not nearly enough to mount a Senate campaign.

Carolyn Maloney may have the fundraising ability to mount a competitive race. In addition, when the "credit card bill of rights" becomes law, she will have a huge bipartisan achievement to tout on the campaign trail. (The House passed the bill 357-70; even Republicans voted 105-69 in favor of it.) After seeing President Obama call Rep. Israel, Maloney would do well to stay in the race until she gets the call as well; her best move may be to make a deal at that point.

In the general election, there's really very little hope for any Republican to unseat Gillibrand, even if she has to fend off a primary challenge. George Pataki's numbers can't be very good, and Gillibrand can lay a lot of the blame for NY's current fiscal woes at his feet (and help Paterson if he runs next year). Peter King is too closely associated with George W. Bush. Rick Lazio couldn't dent Hillary Clinton when she was carpetbagging; putting him up against another woman will only mean showing his disastrous debate performance in 2000 over and over again.

In short, unless Kirsten Gillibrand makes about as many missteps as David Paterson has, she's pretty much guaranteed election to a full term as our junior senator.