Field of possible Gillibrand challengers is growing

The big question in New York state politics is: Who will primary Kirsten Gillibrand? While the election is still two years away, anyone who wants to take on the largely unknown upstate senator will have to start getting around to the rest of the state now. It is a forgone conclusion that the successful candidate would have to be from the New York metropolitan region. There are several candidates whose names have been raised as potential rivals for the Senate seat. Anybody with a safe congressional seat has to know that a run for Senate would put that safe seat at risk. They would also have to take on the powerful, take-no-prisoners Chuck Schumer, who was very influential in leaning on David Paterson to appoint Gillibrand. There are many who will tell you that Paterson’s slide in the polls can be dated to the moment he chose Gillibrand. So here are a few of the names on everyone’s lips.

Let’s start with Congressman Steve Israel from Long Island. He was a top contender for the seat but Paterson appears to have felt locked in to an upstater and a woman, a “twofer.” Israel is popular and well known to New York City folks as a Democrat with a history of crushing Republicans. If he runs, he will have the help of most, if not all, of the New York congressional delegation, people who were very unhappy about Paterson’s choice of the neophyte Gillibrand. One such representative assures me that the delegation will be anything but scared of retribution by Schumer.

Another representative who has already said that she would run if no else did is Carolyn McCarthy, a Brooklyn-born, Long Island Democrat whose husband was murdered on the Long Island Rail Road and who has fought a battle for gun control for years. Gillibrand, who received an A from the National Rifle Association for her stand on guns, has been flip-flopping on that issue and a few others like immigration since she entered the Senate. McCarthy would crush Gillibrand in a primary if she really has the stomach for the race. My bet is that she is secretly hoping that someone else will do it.

Maurice Hinchey: this extraordinarily popular, principled and bright Hudson Valley Congressman is the hero of all those Democrats who opposed the Iraq War and who have seen him as a voice in the wilderness. These are just the type of activists who are most likely to vote in a primary election. But Hinchey has developed a lot of seniority and may be loath to give it up.

Then there is Carolyn Maloney, a representative from the East Side of Manhattan who is now the co-chair of the Joint Economic Committee in the Congress. She really wanted to be senator and the word on the street was that this very talented, hard working lady was annoyed by the Gillibrand selection. She is certainly known to be thinking about running a primary but if she does, she’d have to give up a lot of influence in the House. I think she has the moxie to make the move. She’s worth watching. If she runs, I think she’ll beat Gillibrand.

Of course, there is one name that you don’t see mentioned a lot but I think should be thrown into the mix and that is Caroline Kennedy. No one really knows what happened when David Paterson selected Gillibrand. Maybe Kennedy thought that Paterson was not going to select her and bailed. That is certainly Team Paterson’s version of the process. Kennedy says that she wanted out but it may be that she feared a double-cross from Paterson. So, let’s just say that Kennedy decided that she would now run for the seat against Gillibrand in a primary. She’d win in a New York minute. It would be the perfect revenge. We pretty well know what her downsides are but I just don’t think that will matter to the rank and file voters in New York. She’s bright. She’s attractive. She’s a lawyer. She is the daughter and niece to two icons of American politics, to say nothing of her famous mother. Nope, if she runs, she wins. Period, end of sentence, punto, finale.
If I’m Kirsten Gillibrand I have a lot to worry about.

Originally Published in the Legislative Gazette, 3/13/09

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