Even as her critics increasingly wonder whether her bid is beyond repair, Gillibrand insisted that she is well-positioned to compete with President Trump in swing states and at the same time rally liberals, citing her experience as a House member representing a conservative district in Upstate New York as well as her support for Medicare-for-all and advocacy for women.
“Coming from a blue state, there’s a false debate in the party right now: Either you have to be an uber progressive who can inspire the base, or you have to be a moderate who wins those red and purple areas,” she said. “I believe you have to do both, and my candidacy is both.”
Gillibrand’s urgency during a relatively sleepy summer stretch in the 2020 contest reflects the mounting pressure on stalled candidates to jump-start their campaigns, particularly as former vice president Joe Biden continues to lead the polls, and other rivals, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), are gaining significant traction with early-state voters.
As the fall campaign season nears, many veteran Democrats expect the field to narrow as some contenders fail to raise sufficient funds or qualify for debates. Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper (D) dropped out last week, leaving 23 active candidates.
But Gillibrand is far from ready to shutter her campaign. She implored her supporters on Monday to “send a dollar so that I can make the debate stage” and claimed she is “very” close to earning a spot.
To make the next round of debates, the Democratic National Committee requires a candidate to have collected donations from at least 130,000 people and reached 2 percent support in four qualifying polls by Aug. 28. Those debates will be held Sept. 12 and 13, sponsored by ABC News and the Spanish-language network Univision.
“They’re not my rules,” Gillibrand said. But, she added, “I have to follow them. I have to actually meet these goals — and I believe in the grass roots.” She noted that she is “just over 110,000” individual donors as of this week.
Although Gillibrand has built a national profile since being appointed to the Senate in 2009, most notably for her legislative work on sexual harassment and sexual assault issues, she has found it difficult to stand out in the crowded Democratic race. For months, Gillibrand has won scant support in most nationwide polls, and her RealClearPolitics polling average stands at less than 1 percent.
Gillibrand did see a slight bump in Iowa this month, rising to 2 percent there among likely Democratic caucusgoers, according to a Monmouth University survey that is a qualifying poll for Houston. That poll followed her turn in the last debate, where she won notice for her attacks on Biden and her promise to use “Clorox” to clean the Oval Office if she beats Trump next year.
On Monday, Gillibrand continued to take on Biden, calling herself more protectionist on trade than the former vice president and once again questioning whether Biden supports working women. At the last debate, she challenged Biden about an op-ed he wrote in 1981 with the headline “Congress Is Subsidizing Deterioration of Family.”
“I want to know why he believed they were somehow deteriorating the family,” Gillibrand said, underscoring the critique she made onstage in Detroit. Biden has responded by calling Gillibrand’s remarks disingenuous and said he has long supported women in his family as they have worked and raised children.
Gillibrand’s own past statements, such as her onetime “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, have revived as she has traveled to Iowa and New Hampshire. Gillibrand now is a fierce critic of the NRA and has called for Congress to pass a ban on assault weapons and launch a national program to buy back guns.
“I’ve always been against gun violence and gun death and I’ve always been against children losing their lives. That is who I am, and it’s always been that way,” Gillibrand said, when asked about her private views on guns even as she supported the NRA and opposed gun control as a House member.
“I have the humility to recognize when I’m wrong, which many elected leaders do not, especially President Trump,” she said.
Turning to one of her signature issues — sexual harassment — Gillibrand defended her call for Minnesota Democrat Al Franken to resign from the Senate in 2017 amid allegations of sexual misconduct, saying she would make the same decision today.
Earlier this summer, the New Yorker magazine published a piece in which Franken said he “absolutely” regrets stepping down before he was able to take part in a hearing by the Senate Ethics Committee. Gillibrand was the first of the nearly three dozen senators to demand Franken’s resignation.
Gillibrand declined to say Monday whether she would oppose a Franken political comeback, but did say she believes there is “always room for redemption.”
“We’re a country that believes in second chances,” she said. “We believe in someone who has humility, who comes forward to say they’re sorry and they have paid consequences and want to reemerge — that’s always there for everyone.”
And should her campaign fail to win the Democratic nomination, Gillibrand said she’d be willing to serve as the party’s vice-presidential nominee.
“Of course,” she said. “I will do public service in all its forms.”
Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.