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News from the Votemaster

Paterson Names Kirsten Gillibrand to the Senate

Gov. David Paterson (D-NY), named Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) to fill Hillary Clinton's seat in the Senate, as expected. He mishandled the whole affair in a variety of ways, which may cause him and the party grief shortly. First, he mangled Caroline Kennedy's short-lived bid for the seat. The idea probably originated with Sen. Ted Kennedy but Paterson probably should have told him privately that despite her famous name, she was too inexperienced and too camera shy to handle such an immensely visible and political job. The state's senior senator, Chuck Schumer, once entered a sausage-eating contest in Cheektowaga--and liked it. It is hard to imagine Caroline Kennedy doing that. Paterson could have told Ted that if Caroline really wanted the job, she should prove herself by running in the Democratic primary in 2010 and knocking off the appointed senator. That would end all questions about her political skills. The net result is that Paterson looks wobbly and has now antagonized the Kennedys.

The pick of Gillibrand is a mixed bag. For one thing, she is a moderate, which terminally annoys true-blue liberals from New York City and its suburbs. One of them, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy has said she will challenge Gillibrand in a primary in 2010 because McCarthy is a strong supporter of gun control and Gillibrand is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment (with a 100% NRA rating). However, brave words like McCarthy's are not so easily followed up. Gillibrand is a prodigious fundraiser, having raked in $4.6 million for her 2008 campaign (vs. $1.3 million for McCarthy). Furthermore the primary is statewide, of course, and Gillibrand's pro-gun stance will serve her well upstate. When McCarthy cools off and begins to see that she will be up against an incumbent senator who will have boatloads of money and considerable support upstate, she will probably back down.

However, precisely because Gillibrand is a moderate, she can count on considerable support, both in an eventual primary and in the general election, from upstate voters. This will make it much harder for the Republicans to label her a far-out liberal. Gillibrand will bring in the big guns from the NRA to vouch for her. The fact that she is a woman, and by all accounts, a highly competent one, will surely give her an edge with female voters in 2010. Why kick a woman out of office when she is doing her job well? Furthermore, Gillibrand is also exceptionally young for a senator (42), which means that in 20 years, when she has enough seniority to have real power, she will still be young enough to function well and may be able to exercise that power for an additional 20 years. CQ Politics has a backgrounder on Gillibrand.

Another plus (from Paterson's point of view), is that Gillibrand will probably run better than he will upstate. He may benefit from her coattails for his own reelection in 2010. He got his job in an odd way (the former governor resigned after a sex scandal involving a prostitute) and practically the first thing Paterson did after taking office was admit that he and his wife had both cheated on each other multiple times. He said it was OK because they were all freebies and he didn't give anybody favors as a quid pro quo. In NYC nobody will give a hoot, but upstate he will need all the help he can get, and having Gillibrand on the ticket will increase turnout among Democratic and moderate Republican women.

On the downside (besides irking the Kennedys and looking indecisive), Paterson passed over state Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, who is known to want his dad's old job, Governor of New York. Kicking the younger Cuomo upstairs would have gotten him out of the way. Now Paterson may well face a nasty primary against Cuomo, one that Cuomo could easily win.

Finally, there will be special election in NY-20 to fill Gillibrand's seat. The district is R+3 but she won in 2006 because her opponent self-destructed (beat his wife so badly she called 911). In 2008 she was the incumbent. Now there is an open seat. The Republican candidate in 2008, Sandy Treadwell, the former Chairman of the New York Republican Party, was crushed by Gillibrand, but now with an open seat he is likely to try again. The Democrats don't have an obvious candidate and may end up losing the seat.

In summary, by picking Gillibrand, Paterson has given the Democrats a senator who can probably hold her own in 2010 and again in 2012, has probably lost a House seat, and may cost him his job. From the point of view of the Democratic Party, having Andrew Cuomo as governor is probably a plus. Cuomo is clearly a rising star in the party and might even be a presidential candidate in 2016 since if his stars line up, at 59 he will have had four years in Bill Clinton's cabinet as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, four years as state Attorney General, and six years as governor of New York. Definitely somebody to keep an eye on.

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