NY Sen. - How to Primary Gillibrand and Win

By Al Giordano

Hey, you know something else about Senator Kirsten Gillibrand that screams "hypocrite" regarding her anti-immigrant crusade?

Her husband, Jonathan Gillibrand, is a British national.

You can't make this stuff up.

The Irish and the Mexicans, the Dominicans and South and Central Americans, the Africans and Asians and Eastern European Jews and others need not apply: Unless they've got their papers in order, Gillibrand wants to take away their drivers' licenses, block their path to legal residence in the US, send local cops to arrest them and deport them, and she co-sponsored legislation to make English the "official language." All of that in the state that is home to the Statue of Frickin' Liberty. But, of course, there will always be an exception for the immigrant that married her.

There's just something oh-so-oily about Gillibrand's utter lack of principle as she "tacks left" (embracing, for example, gay marriage after opposing up until a few days ago), and yet even still she maintains an ideological commitment on at least one issue, her crusade against real immigration reform.

Like other Lou Dobbs styled nativists, Gillibrand calls it "amnesty."

Gillibrand told NY1 last Friday:

"I think amnesty is the wrong approach and I'll tell you why. Half this country will never accept amnesty. It will not work for them. They will never vote for it. It will never pass. "

(That alone should be embarrassing and a cause for self-reflection to the "just give her a chance to move left" defenders because Gillibrand made that statement after she supposedly tacked left.)

Gillibrand also demonstrates profound political stupidity in her claim that "it will never pass." In 2007, with only 51 members of the Democratic Senate caucus, Comprehensive Immigration Reform got 46 votes. The new and bigger Democratic majority, and the support of President Obama, makes is much more possible to pass. How sad if Senator Gillibrand ends up being the deciding vote against it (that would be on your hands, too, Governor Paterson).

From Gillibrand's website (I'll preserve it for posterity here because I suspect it will soon be scrubbed):

In Congress, Congresswoman Gillibrand has been a firm opponent of any proposal that would give amnesty to illegal aliens.  The federal government must provide the necessary resources to secure our borders, which is critical for America's economic and national security.  She strongly supports legislation that would significantly increase the number of border patrol agents and place sophisticated technology along the Southern border to catch human and drug smugglers. 

Congresswoman Gillibrand authored and passed an amendment that will prevent employers who have hired illegal aliens from receiving federal contracts. 

In addition, Congresswoman Gillibrand believes English should be made the official language of the United States and she opposes providing non-emergency taxpayer benefits to illegal aliens.

That's just one issue among many that fuel Jonathan Tasini's Elect a Progressive New York Senator in 2010 project, which, on Facebook has grown from 71 members to 351 since Thursday's appointment of Gillibrand.

She's likely going to face a primary challenger. The question is whether one or more of those candidates can achieve, in the minds of voters and donors, viability.

Electoral politics, by definition, includes pragmatism. I'm sure there are many, many out there who are waiting to see whether a viable rival surfaces (and if one does, will back it with donations and grassroots muscle). Tasini's project is out there shaking the trees and playing a very important role of causing folks to look closer at the opportunity provided by Governor David Paterson's McCain-like folly.

Here is some helpful data for those out there looking for the right progressive Democrat to beat Gillibrand in the September 2010 closed (registered Democrats only) primary, from the exit polls of the February 5 2008 NY Democratic primary.

The NY Democratic primary electorate is:

58 percent female

30 percent elderly

60 percent go to church "a few times a year" or never

37 percent Catholic

61 percent college graduates

7 percent say they're gay, lesbian or bisexual

African American: 16 percent

Latino: 10 percent

White: 70 percent

Liberal: 57 percent

Gillibrand, as a Catholic woman, has those two demographic advantages (shared by two other figures in this equation: US Rep. Carolyn McCarthy and Caroline Kennedy).

But by continuing to oppose a path to citizenship for immigrants, she's virtually guaranteed that the 10 percent of the primary electorate that is Latino will back almost any pro-immigration reform candidate against her. That 10 percent makes for a larger chunk of the primary electorate than the rural upstate vote that Gillibrand calls her base. Again, according to the same exit poll, here is the regional breakdown of that primary electorate:

New York City: 50 percent

Long Island: 10 percent

Lower Hudson: 13 percent

Urban upstate: 17 percent

Rural upstate: 9 percent

So, Gillibrand could get, say, 75 percent of the rural upstate vote, but would likely lose at least 75 percent of the Latino vote and it would totally erase her one geographic card to play, and more likely put her at a net deficit of votes. Then the fight would be on for the remaining 81 percent of the electorate (31.5 percent of that remaining vote will be from African-Americans; the candidate that catches fire there would win the primary). And all of it will be urban or suburban. (See Nate Silver's January 18 opus, Barack Obama: The First Urban President? and extrapolate that to a Democratic primary electorate in New York, and Gillibrand's vulnerability becomes much clearer.)

You can see that, at least from the perspective of winning a Democratic primary, being from rural upstate is vastly overrated. Also consider that most of the upstate primary vote is urban, too: from the cities of Buffalo, Rochester, Albany-Troy-Schenectady, Syracuse and some others, where voters have more in common demographically and ideologically with the residents of the five boroughs than with the gun-toting, immigrant-bashing crowd that Gillibrand has spent her brief political career championing:

Urban: 63 percent

Suburban" 32 percent

Rural: 4 percent

Among elected officials, US Rep. Carolyn McCarthy is the first out of the gate saying that if nobody else does, she will primary Gillibrand. That said, McCarthy has at least four major obstacles establishing the viability to best the appointee:

1. Gillibrand is a better political fund raiser than McCarthy (and now with the backing of the Schumer-Clinton-Silver-machine, aka Wall Street money, and it's new eunuch David Paterson with the levers of state government at his command, it's going to be extremely difficult for McCarthy to raise the $10 or $15 million minimum that a rival would need to mount a viable primary challenge.)

2. McCarthy is widely branded as a "single issue" candidate (gun control) and although her positions on guns are more in line with that of NY Democratic primary voters, it's going to be tough to make that the defining issue during hard economic times. There are great dangers in becoming defined as a "single issue candidate."

3. Like Gillibrand, McCarthy has not built up a strong record of advocating for issues of concern to Latinos and African-Americans and doesn't have the kinds of strong relationships among those voters and political organizations that could create, for a different candidate, a perfect coalitional storm.

4. McCarthy has so far not demonstrated that intangible Internet and media savvy profile that helps some political candidates raise buckets of money online but leaves others virtually ignored by that small donor constituency. Stylistically, Gillibrand fits that image better, mainly because of her cultivated Yuppie image, even as her policies are horrid.

Still, the jury's not yet in condemning Carolyn McCarthy's possible candidacy. If you'd like to get a look at her, here she is, interviewed in recent days by Andrea Mitchell:

McCarthy spoke for many New Yorkers when she said of Governor Paterson's Bizzaro World handling of the appointment in the final days: "That is not how you treat people who have in my opinion a great deal of respect from the people of New York and also from people throughout the country." And she added, "You have people that can represent this state very well with the right point of views to start with."

Lawrence O'Donnell's Huffington Post Essay, New York's Next Senator Opposed to the Obama Agenda, made me think that Larry, if he chose to run, could himself be a very serious challenger. Here's his HuffPo Bio:

Executive Producer "The West Wing"

Creator & Executive Producer "Mister Sterling"

Former Chief of Staff, U.S. Senate Committee on Finance

Former Chief of Staff, U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works

Author "Deadly Force"

Actor "Big Love," "The West Wing," "Monk"

That's quite the resume, and you can add "blogger" to it.

In other words, O'Donnell's got solid Senate experience (he served those posts as the right-hand of the late New York US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan) and corresponding policy gravitas, he can surely raise the big bucks necessary, he's telegenic, and he's Internet savvy. Does he reside in New York? It doesn't really matter. There's time to establish residency just like Senators Hillary Clinton and Bobby Kennedy did. After all, his new TV program, a cop show titled Staten Island, is going to be filmed in that borough.

It may be that with the various interlocking politics-and-money machines pushing Gillibrand, it will be the intersection of politics and entertainment, rather than the elected official "farm team," that could produce the most viable challenger: Susan Sarandon considered a primary for US Senate in 2000 but in the end decided not to primary Senator Clinton. Her husband, Tim Robbins, is also politically astute. There are many New Yorkers known outside of politics yet with sufficient grasp of policy who could build a surprise here.

Here's another out-of-the-box idea: Arianna Huffington herself could mount a challenge (she'd already get 90 percent of the Latino vote because of her historic advocacy of immigrant rights, for starters, back when so many others avoided the matter). Each of those people could raise the necessary money on the Internet from a national base of supporters.

So, this will be interesting to watch. Gillibrand, simply, is not well known statewide, the geography of a Democratic primary works against her, and there's an opening big enough to drive a Mack Truck through for the progressive of the winning profile.

A little bit of policy heft plus a little bit of name recognition would provide important advantages over the little-known and not-very-accomplished Gillibrand from the get-go. And there are some potential names out there that could clearly out-raise her from small donors, Obama style.

And if you're one of those people reading these words, you may be thinking: If not now, when? If not you, who?

Update: Special thanks to Errol Louis of the NY Daily News for answering my request for the embed code to this video of a panel he was on last weekend at NY1. Along with other NY political reporting bigfeet Wayne Barrett (Village Voice), Maggie Haberman (NY Post), Brian Lehrer (WNYC) and NY1 host Dominic Carter, the five of them spend 20 minutes counting the ways that the Gillibrand appointment is, well, a train wreck in New York:

Watch it for a free lesson in civics. You won't be underwhelmed.



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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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