Personal Background:

Kirsten Gillibrand announces her 2020 presidential exploratory committee on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Senator Kirsten Elizabeth Gillibrand is an attorney and politician serving as the junior senator from New York since 2009. She graduated magna cum laude at Dartmouth College in 1988 and received her J.D. from the UCLA School of Law in 1991. She was born in Albany to attorney parents and has an older brother and younger sister. Gillibrand’s maternal grandmother was a founder of the Albany Democratic Women’s Club. She spent her early career in private law firms, which she says allowed her to take on pro bono cases. She notably represented victims of domestic violence and tenants seeking safe housing. She first ran for public office in 2006, ousting Republican incumbent John E. Sweeney for New York’s 20th Congressional district. She ran on a largely centre-right platform, campaigning to protect gun laws and advocating against amnesty for illegal immigrants. Upon taking office, Gillibrand joined the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of conservative-leaning Democrats. She also became the first member of Congress to release her official schedule and personal financial statements, citing the need for transparency within the political system. Following Hillary Clinton’s appointment as Secretary of State under then President-Elect Obama in 2008, she was appointed to fill the now-vacant seat as the junior U.S. Senator from New York, where she has served since. On January 15th 2019 Gillibrand announced her 2020 presidential run on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Voting record and major bills sponsored/authored:

Gillibrand currently sits on the following committees:

Gillibrand currently has the following ratings by external groups:

  • Human Rights Campaign (HRC): 100%
  • Planned Parenthood Action Fund: 100%
  • NIAC Action, A League of Conservation Voters: 94%
  • American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): 88%
  • The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws: B+
  • NIAC Action: B
  • United States Chamber of Commerce: 38%
  • NumbersUSA: 18%
  • Americans for Prosperity: 5%
  • The Club For Growth
  • FreedomWorks: 0%

Gillibrand’s Senate bill sponsorship and sponsorship record shows that, compared to other Democratic senators, she is the most far left. Her fellow candidate Senator Bernie Sanders is farther leaning but as a third party member. However, in terms of the number of bills she’s been a member of (represented in the chart as “leadership”), she outranks Sanders. This is in stark contrast to Gillibrand’s early days in the House as a Blue Dog Democrat, where she was known for pushing her pro-gun and anti-immigrant rhetoric. She has since swung steadily to the left, claiming that she has “had an epiphany.”

Main Goals and Platforms:

Gillibrand speaks to protesters rallying against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh

Unlike many of her fellow candidates, Gillibrand doesn’t necessarily have one “signature” policy that sets her apart. However, she has consistently made gender equality a key issue in her campaign. This is unsurprising, considering that she has been speaking out against sexual misconduct since far before the #MeToo Movement. Additionally, every year she compiles a report concerning sexual assault in the military in order to highlight the problem and has founded an organization dedicated to raising money for female candidates across the country. On her website, Gillibrand highlights 7 key goals — universal healthcare, a “net-zero” emissions economy, immigration reform and family reunification, restoring the Voting Rights Act, LGBTQ rights, combating institutional racism and criminal justice reform. Such a wide-reaching platform is sure to help her appeal to more voters and aid her in her bid for President.

Criticisms:

Kirsten Gillibrand is a very experienced, traditional politician, and though many consider this her greatest strength, there are some who consider it to be her greatest weakness as well. She has been criticised for her close ties to Wall Street and has often been seen as a leading representative in the deeply flawed establishment of the Democratic party. She has also been called a character of “New York liberalism” —  socially liberal but fiscally conservative.

Additionally, her controversial past has come up on many occasion, despite her extensive apologies. During her time in the House of Representatives, The Human Rights Campaign gave her the lowest rating of any New York Democrat in Congress for her stance on gay rights issues, while her rating from the National Rifle Association, was a 100 per cent. Her anti-amnesty stance on illegal immigration drew a lot of backlashes as well. In recent years, she has owned up to her past and attributes the shift to meetings with illegal immigrants and victims of gun violence. Some say her honesty and transparency has actually helped her campaign.

Gillibrand speaks to guests during a campaign stop at the Chrome Horse Saloon in Cedar

Gillibrand’s biggest criticism, however, is that she is a “political opportunist.” Her opponents are quick to bring up the rapid change in ideology she had during the time she was considered for the Senate seat. “If you looked up ‘political opportunism’ in the dictionary, Kirsten Gillibrand’s photo would be next to it,” Michael Ahrens, the Republican National Committee spokesman, said. “From jumping on the ‘abolish ICE’ bandwagon to turning on the Clintons, Gillibrand always goes where the political wind blows. Democrats know it, which is why she’s barely registering in the polls.” Her charge against Senator Al Franken has done little to help her cause, and she has consistently had to defend herself from allegations of political opportunism related to this.

Popularity and Electability:

In an increasing field filled with big names such as Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rourke, and Kamala Harris, securing the Democratic nomination will surely be a challenge for Gillibrand. Similar to Clinton in 2016, she will likely have to face sexism from the media, but she has often leaned into it. Additionally, her political outspokenness and relations with Wall Street have made her some powerful enemies.

Kirsten Gillibrand and her longtime role model, Hillary Clinton

Still, her talent for fundraising and years of experience make her a strong contender. She has often made women’s issues the center of her campaign, which makes her increasingly popular with women voters, who make up almost 60 per cent of the Democratic base.

Despite all of this, Gillibrand has been significantly lagging behind in the polls, according to the recent CNN/Des Moines Register Iowa/Mediacom Poll. She has polled under 1 per cent among likely Democratic caucus voters. Additionally, 55 per cent of these voters say that they are “Not Sure” of their stance on her, so her low polling may likely just be due to a lack of name recognition.

Though not necessarily the most popular, Kirsten Gillibrand has all the credentials and experience she needs to be a serious contender for the Presidency.

Featured Image: Kena Betancur via CNBC

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