The early candidacies keep on coming. This week, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined a growing field of Democratic presidential candidates. Democrats and pundits responded with a resounding “meh.”
That’s not to say she should be overlooked. While she excites few constituencies or powerful interests, she also alienates few constituencies and powerful interests. For the moment, she is decidedly inoffensive to most Democrats. Perhaps it’s because she’s deftly played the part of chameleon, evolving on some issues when it suits her.
Nonetheless, in this surely crowded primary, I don’t think inoffensiveness is particularly helpful. Our closest analogy to this 2020 contest is the Republican Primary of 2016. The way to stand out — like candidate Donald Trump did — is to rally a certain kind of constituency, like Trump did immigration hardliners. If one can do that and get, say, 12 to 15 percent support in a poll of over a dozen candidates, that person can lead the race and convert that lead into more support and fundraising. I don’t like Gillibrand’s chances to do that like Bernie Sanders can rally progressives, Julio Castro can rally Latinos, Kamala Harris can rally Californians, Beto O’Rourke can rally millennials, or Joe Biden can rally lunch pail Democrats who may have voted for Trump.
Nonetheless, she’s been a Senator for over a decade, she’s popular in the delegate-rich northeast, women have momentum in politics and make up 60 percent of the party, perhaps no one will rule her out (like the establishment might rule out Sanders or progressives Biden), and if she can survive long enough to be one of the last handful of candidates, she might emerge as a consensus level-headed pick that contrasts well with President Trump, particularly since no Senator has voted against him more frequently.
Odds for the nomination: 15/1
Gillibrand’s planetary classification: major planet