- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 24, 2019

NEW YORK — If President Trump ran the campaign from Mars, then Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is running the campaign from Venus.

The senator from New York, whose presidential bid barely registers in the polls, is looking to recruit an army of aggrieved women, illegal immigrants and gay and transgender voters she envisions as the counter to the president’s base of angry white men.

At a campaign kickoff rally Sunday in front of Trump International Hotel, Ms. Gillibrand showed off her coalition by bringing on stage representatives from each of the groups that she described as under the foot of the Trump presidency.

“Kirsten Gillibrand has fought for women, she has fought for LGBTQ people, for [sex assault] survivors, for immigrants and for every American that dares to imagine an America that serves all of us — not just the white, rich and the powerful,” Andrea Pino, co-founder of End Rape on Campus, said from the stage.

Ms. Gillibrand was tapping into some of the most fiercely anti-Trump veins within the Democratic Party, hoping it would fuel her run.

“Look up at that tower — a shrine to greed, division and vanity. And now look around you. The greater strength, by far, is ours,” she told the cheering crowd.

Over her shoulder was visible the gold-colored marquee of Trump International Hotel.

“He puts his name in bold on every building. He does all of this because he wants you to believe he is strong. He is not. Our president is a coward,” she said.

She branded herself the “brave” candidate and made “brave” the catchword for her campaign, distinguishing herself from what she described as the cowardice, fear and hatred of Mr. Trump.

“The truth is, brave hasn’t always won. And brave isn’t winning right now. Brave doesn’t spread hate or bully the vulnerable. Brave doesn’t put greed and self-interest over millions of lives. Brave doesn’t cower behind lies and walls. Brave doesn’t pit people against one another. That’s what fear does,” she said.

She said Mr. Trump “demonizes the vulnerable” and “is tearing apart the moral fabric of this country.”

Although she made her aggression toward Mr. Trump a centerpiece of her pitch, she said she was not running against Mr. Trump as much as she was running for the American people.

The rally beside the Trump hotel was designed to draw media attention and help her campaign gain traction in a crowded field, where she is currently at the back of the pack.

But it also underscored how shallow her support is at this early stage of the race. About 1,000 people showed up for the event in the metropolis at the heart of her home state.

By comparison, an estimated 20,000 people turned out for the January kickoff speech of Sen. Kamala D. Harris in Oakland, California.

Ms. Gillibrand was the only Democratic contender to garner zero support last week in a national poll by Emerson College. Six of the candidates got 1 percent each, and “someone else” got 5 percent.

Sen. Bernard Sanders and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who is expected to join the race next month, tied for first place in the poll with 26 percent. Ms. Harris was third at 12 percent.

At the Gillibrand rally, many in the crowd said they were undecided about the Democratic primary and came to listen to her message.

“We have a lot of options,” said Mary Schneller, 24, who described herself as a socialist. She backed Mr. Sanders in 2016 but was open to supporting Ms. Gillibrand this time.

“The fact that she’s a woman is definitely a big deal for me,” she said.

Ms. Gillibrand outlined a far-left agenda that included a Medicare-for-All plan, the Green New Deal and a carbon tax, paid family leave, free job training, universal pre-kindergarten, a $15 minimum wage and legalized marijuana.

The event outside the Trump hotel risked criticism for being a stunt or being more brazen than bold, but Democratic strategist Christy Setzer applauded Ms. Gillibrand for invading Mr. Tump’s turf.

“What better way to provide contrast — and an illustration of what’s at stake this election — than launching your campaign at the scene of the crime? Gillibrand is the only one in the field who can simultaneously represent her home state and troll Trump,” she said.

Ms. Gillibrand arrived in the Senate in 2009 as a surprise pick by Gov. David Paterson to replace Sen. Hillary Clinton, who had resigned to become President Obama’s secretary of state.

At the time, Ms. Gillibrand was a conservative Democrat from upstate with a record of being pro-gun, anti-illegal immigration and a mixed record on gay rights.

Her move to the left as a senator was swift and severe. She now effortlessly mingles with gun control activists and illegal immigrants.

As a House member, the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT rights group, gave Ms. Gillibrand the lowest legislative score among New York Democrats. In the Senate, she has scored a perfect 100 percent.

Shrugging off critics who call her a political opportunist, she says she simply realized her previous beliefs were wrong.

Ms. Gillibrand carved out a niche fighting sexual assault in the military and sexual harassment in the workplace. She spearheaded the push to force Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat, out of the Senate because of accusations that he groped and forced himself on women.

Some top Democratic donors have blacklisted Ms. Gillibrand because of her role in ousting Mr. Franken, which some Democrats believe was hasty and unjust, according to a Politico report.

“Silencing women for the powerful, or for your friends, or for convenience, is neither acceptable nor just,” she responded on Facebook.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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