What demand does Kirsten Gillibrand supply?

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is expected to enter the presidential race today. Reportedly, she will make the announcement on Stephen Colbert’s program, and then head to Iowa to campaign.

When the Democratic field is set, Gillibrand will likely be its second phoniest member, trailing only Sen. Cory Booker. In itself, phoniness is not necessarily a drawback. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards both made the national ticket.

The real problem for Gillibrand is the presence of her female Senate colleagues, Elizabeth Warren and (presumably) Kamala Harris, in the 2020 field. What will be Gillibrand’s case for preferring her to them?

Warren has been a leader of the Democratic left for some time. She has a national following. Gillibrand lagged well behind Warren in the lefty sweepstakes until recently, and she has no national following.

Harris is a relative newcomer, but she has pushed her way to near the front of the leftist pack. She seems more charismatic than Gillibrand and she’s African-American. Thus, it’s difficult to see Gillibrand getting far running from the left.

The best niche for Gillibrand might be as a less radical alternative to Warren and Harris (as well as to males in the field, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, if he enters). She might target, say, the less radical half of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 supporters. That’s about one-fourth of the Democratic primary vote.

Gillibrand might receive aid in this endeavor from Wall Street, which seems to prefer her to Warren and Harris. Wall Street apparently sees Gillibrand’s leftism much as it saw Hillary Clinton’s — i.e., less than genuine.

But Gillebrand would probably have to tack to the center to appeal to the less radical half of Clinton’s supporters. This is true even taking into account the possibility that these voters have moved leftward during the Trump years. Another opportunist “tacking” by Gillibrand might prove one too many.

If Joe Biden enters the race, he would blow up any strategy by Gillibrand of moving back towards the center. Biden would occupy most of the niche I’ve just described.

But even if Gillibrand is able to occupy this niche, it’s a formula, perhaps, for becoming a top tier candidate, not for capturing the nomination. Hillary Clinton barely won the nomination with her entire bloc of voters. It’s difficult to see Gillibrand winning it with, say, half of that amount of support.

Might Gillibrand make the ticket as the nominee for vice president? Maybe, if she distinguishes herself on the campaign trail. The Democrats will want one female on the ticket, so any hope for Gillibrand probably rests on a male winning the presidential nomination.

A black or Latino male might be optimal, since it would relieve pressure to put a minority on the ticket. But Julian Castro is quite unlikely to win the nomination. Cory Booker may have a better chance, but would the Dems double down on (1) phonies and (2) candidates from the New Jersey/New York?

The answer to the first question is probably “why not?” The answer to the second is probably “no.”


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