- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 24, 2009

New York Gov. David Paterson’s choice of Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, a little-known pro-gun rights, Blue Dog Democrat, to fill the state’s vacant seat in the U.S. Senate angered some in the party’s left and gave the GOP hope of winning the slot in 2010.

One day after Caroline Kennedy dropped out of consideration for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s seat, the Democratic governor Friday opted for Mrs. Gillibrand, a two-term congresswoman from a largely rural district.

“For many in New York state, this is the first time you’ve heard my name and you don’t know much about me,” Mrs. Gillibrand said. “Over the next two years, you will get to know me. And, more importantly, I will get to know you.”

Some Democrats said Mrs. Gillibrand is out of step with the state’s dominant liberal majority on gun-control issues and immigration law reform.

“I just think it’s a very, very poor choice,” said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a gun-control advocate who didn’t seek the seat. “It sends out a very, very bad message. I can see the NRA sending out their campaign literature saying, ‘Hey raise money, we have to get an NRA member into the Senate from New York.”

“If no one goes and primaries her, I will primary her. … I’m not going to give up on this,” said Mrs. McCarthy, who ran for Congress after her husband was killed by a gunman on the Long Island Railroad in 1993.

Republicans see a political opportunity in the 2010 Senate race if it results in a nasty and divisive Democratic primary battle that could weaken the Democrats’ chances of holding the seat.

“Clearly, Kirsten Gillibrand’s appointment at the end of this chaotic process has angered the left wing and created a real schism in the Democrat Party,” said Brian Walsh, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Republicans said Mr. Paterson’s choice opens up two election targets for them. Rep. Peter T. King, a nine-term Republican from Long Island, was said to be already gearing up to challenge her. And Mrs. Gillibrand’s congressional district near Albany, which she won in an upset in 2006, has long been a Republican bastion, with registered Republicans outnumbering Democrats by 80,000.

Mr. Paterson, a Democrat, said he found the best candidate to win the 2010 special election to fill the final two years of Mrs. Clinton’s term. Mrs. Clinton was sworn in Wednesday as secretary of state.

Political observers said that after weeks of consideration, Mr. Paterson wanted to name a woman to follow Mrs. Clinton in the Senate as well as a proven vote-getter with strong appeal to more conservative, rural upstate voters when she faces the voters in a special election in 2010 for the remainder of Mrs. Clinton’s term.

Mr. Paterson, the former lieutenant governor who took over the governorship when Democrat Elliot Spitzer resigned in disgrace in a prostitution scandal, will also be running for a full term in his own right and wanted someone who would help boost the ticket.

“As an upstate congresswoman with a large congressional district, she’s good at raising money and conservative enough to attract an upstate general electorate, so that’s the reason for the governor’s pick,” said New York Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf.

“It’s a good choice for the general election but a bad choice for a primary. It depends on who runs against her. Carolyn McCarthy has an emotional argument to make on gun control that resonates with a large number of New York residents,” he said.

While Mrs. Gillibrand was among the top contenders for the seat, virtually all of the news coverage and speculation about the appointment was focused on Ms. Kennedy’s unexpected bid for the seat and state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who became the leading popular choice in the past few weeks, according to several New York polls.

Party leaders immediately rallied behind Mrs. Gillibrand, beginning with President Obama who quickly telephoned her Friday to congratulate her and promise his full support. “Governor Paterson made a wonderful choice in appointing Kirsten Gillibrand to fill Secretary Clinton’s seat,” Mr. Obama said. “I am confident that she will continue Secretary Clinton’s distinguished service to the people of New York and to our country.

“At this time of great challenge, I know that Kirsten has the integrity, character and dedication to public service to help us achieve our greatest goals,” Mr. Obama said.

Mrs. Clinton also released a statement saying she was “pleased that this seat, which has been my great honor to hold and which has in its history been held by leaders like former Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Robert F. Kennedy, will be in such capable hands.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the state’s senior senator, was reportedly pushing for Mrs. Gillibrand.

Republicans say Mrs. Gillibrand, who represents a conservative district, may be vulnerable on the immigration issue, said America’s Voice, a pro-immigration-reform organization.

“Gillibrand has a troubling record on immigration. As a member of the House, she supported policy proposals aimed at driving immigrant workers and families further underground without offering a practical solution to the presence of some 12 million hard-working immigrants without immigration papers in the United States,” said Frank Sharry, the group’s executive director.

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