- The Washington Times - Monday, June 22, 2009

ALBANY, N.Y. | By any measure, New York’s new Democratic senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, got off to a rocky start. She was neither a Kennedy nor a Clinton, just an unknown appointed by an unpopular governor.

But with a consistent, engaging style and help from powerful allies including President Obama, Mrs. Gillibrand has moved quickly to quiet her critics and box out potential challengers in her party.

The little-known U.S. representative from upstate New York was appointed to fill Hillary Rodham Clinton’s seat in January when the Democratic incumbent became Mr. Obama’s secretary of state. Gov. David A. Paterson settled on Mrs. Gillibrand only after Caroline Kennedy abruptly withdrewfrom consideration.

Mrs. Gillibrand’s conservative views on guns and immigration drew immediate criticism from more liberal Democrats in the state. Political veterans, including Reps. Steve Israel, Carolyn McCarthy and Carolyn B. Maloney, loudly threatened to challenge her in 2010.

A primary would be Mrs. Gillibrand’s biggest threat in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1. The Republican Party has yet to get behind a candidate. Former Gov. George E. Pataki, the last Republican to win statewide in New York, has been approached about running but has not given an answer.

In Washington, Mrs. Gillibrand’s chief mentor is the state’s senior senator, Charles E. Schumer, former chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and architect of the party’s majority in the chamber. He has made her re-election a priority.

Mr. Obama has called Mr. Israel and asked him not to compete against Mrs. Gillibrand.

Mr. Israel said he bowed out of the race at the behest of the president. Ms. McCarthy also has taken a pass. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. telephoned Mrs. Maloney this month to discuss the race with her, but she hasn’t ruled out a run.

So far only Jonathan Tasini, a little-known labor activist, has announced plans to challenge Mrs. Gillibrand.

Mrs. Gillibrand’s detractors say she is too obscure and conservative for the liberal Democrats who live in the New York City metropolitan area.

To reinforce her standing, Mrs. Gillibrand, 43, has won the backing of unions, elected officials, civil rights activists - including the Rev. Al Sharpton - and Emily’s List, which raises money for Democratic female candidates. Mrs. Gillibrand hopes to use the endorsements as a sort of political firewall.

She nonetheless remains vulnerable. A Marist Poll taken last month showed that she is still unknown to many voters, and her weakest numbers came from New York City and its suburbs.

Mrs. Gillibrand has tried to distance herself from hard-line positions on guns and illegal immigration that suited her congressional district but play poorly in more diverse, urban areas.

She has attended more than 100 luncheons, speeches and events, from Long Island to Niagara Falls. The married mother of two young boys has proposed several pieces of family-friendly legislation, such as toughening chemical safety standards for baby products.


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