On March 17, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) officially announced she is running for the Democratic nomination for US president in 2020, joining a crowded primary field as a big name from a populous state. But despite many mainstream media appearances and a platform designed to appeal to the Democratic base, Gillibrand's campaign has so far been wracked with mediocrity and boringness. She still struggles to break above 1% in nearly all polls, and she finds it harder to stand out as more candidates declare before summer. However, in recent weeks Gillibrand has rebranded herself into a reproductive rights hero, and the messaging shift could save her campaign.
Gillibrand was born as Kirsten Elizabeth Rutnik in 1966 to an upper-middle class family in Albany, New York. She attended Dartmouth College and majored in Asian studies. Then she attended UCLA Law School and became an attorney in 1991. She started at Davis Polk & Wardwell as an associate before making partner at Boies, Schiller & Flexner, where she did pro bono work defending abused women and children. She married her husband Jonathan in 2001. In 2006, Gillibrand narrowly won a House seat and served until 2009, when Governor Paterson appointed her to fill Hillary Clinton's vacant Senate seat. She won reelection in 2010, 2012, and 2018. As a Senator, Gillibrand serves on the Armed Services, Environment and Public Works, Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, and Aging Committees.
Her presidential campaign leans leftward and pays tribute to progressive vanguards like Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Like many Democrats, Gillibrand supports environmental protection, Medicare for all, public education investment, immigration, criminal justice, and election reform, and removing dark money from the political system. But with the recent rise of conservative states passing restrictive and likely illegal anti-abortion laws, Gillibrand has championed herself as a reproductive rights hero. She unveiled a reproductive rights agenda that calls for expanding access to women's healthcare and family planning and nominating only pro-choice judges. She also proposed a Family Bill of Rights that includes the rights to a safe and healthy pregnancy, to give birth or adopt, to a safe and affordable nursery, to national paid family and medical leave, and to affordable childcare and early education. Her plan would levy a financial transactions tax of up to $800 billion over a decade to help defray the cost.
Gillibrand faces challenges as she reminds people of Hillary Clinton and had a conservative House voting record. Though Gillibrand is struggling to gain traction now, the increasingly heated reproductive rights battleground could help her surge in popularity. Her rebranding as a reproductive rights hero is most likely to attract women, pro-choice advocates, and families with young children. If Gillibrand can leverage her new unique identity and platform to gain in the polls around the first primary debates of the summer, then she has a decent chance of surviving to possibly face President Donald Trump next year.
- 1. https://kirstengillibrand.com/
- 2. https://www.businessinsider.com/who-is-kirsten-gillibrand-bio-age-family-key-positions-2019-3
- 3. https://medium.com/team-gillibrand/protecting-reproductive-rights-requires-a-real-proactive-agenda-heres-mine-671c4bfdb1de
- 4. https://medium.com/team-gillibrand/the-family-bill-of-rights-a-new-economic-policy-for-my-first-100-days-in-office-ea2152f00f23