Monday, November 23, 2009

Rudy Giuliani would demolish Kirsten Gillibrand for Senate in New York

David Paterson and Kirsten Gillibrand: Two losers?

Ten months ago, New York's accidental Governor, David Paterson, appointed little-known upstate Representative Kirsten Gillibrand to fill the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton.

With all that time as a young, fresh newcomer to the Senate, representing the media capital of the world, New York, amidst debate over a dozen high-profile, even historic debates in Congress -- from two wars to the stimulus to health care and taxes -- you'd think Gillibrand would have it made and be ready to cruise to election to a full term in 2010.

Maybe not, it turns out. According to a new Marist poll, only "25% of the electorate thinks Gillibrand is doing either an excellent or good job in office, and 12% believes she is performing poorly." A potentially even worse problem she faces is that almost a quarter of the electorate doesn't know enough about her to rate her at all. Way to leverage that incumbency, Kirsten!

The really bad news, though, is this:

There has been a great deal of talk over the last few days about whether former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani will oppose Gillibrand in the 2010 race for U.S. Senate. If that’s the case, it could spell trouble for Gillibrand. In a hypothetical matchup against Gillibrand, Giuliani leads 54% to 40%.

OK, that's in part due to Rudy's higher name recognition, but the guy is still well liked among those New York City voters who are not die-hard liberals and has always been very popular in the suburbs and upstate.

Maybe Gillibrand can take comfort from the fact that she's doing a lot better than her patron, Gov. Paterson. A recent Siena poll found that 72% of all New Yorkers wanted someone other than Paterson for Governor, and that Attorney General Andrew Cuomo would beat Paterson in a Democratic primary, 70% to 20%.

In a race against Giuliani, Gillibrand may have disadvantaged herself by spending much of her time and energy making an abrupt transition from her moderate (even relatively conservative on some issues like guns) record and image as a member of the House Blue Dog Coalition to acquire some liberal bona fides. She probably had no choice, since a number of liberal (and also female) downstate members of Congress were threatening to run a primary against her, based on her Blue Dog positions. That threat has disappeared, for the moment anyway (see here and here). But she may have dug herself into a hole where a tough general election contest with Rudy is concerned by staking out positions that give him solid shots to take.

One vote that is certain to haunt her was her vote in support of ACORN funding two months ago. After the release of the tapes showing one after another ACORN housing advisor graciously helping a supposed pimp and prostitute figure out ways to break the law, the Senate voted 83-7 to defund ACORN. New York's senior Senator, Chuck Schumer, voted with the majority, but Gillibrand was one of the tiny band of seven ACORN supporters. The House also voted to cut off funds to the group, 345-75, with Gillibrand's successor in her old upstate district voting with the majority. The Census Bureau and the IRS cut off ACORN. Even Gov. Paterson froze state contracts with the group. But our Kirsten hung tough for ACORN.

Why? Because ACORN is part and parcel of an array of politically important entities in New York State politics. In particular, the Working Families Party, which has a permanent line on the ballot in New York to give to or withhold from candidates, and the powerful unions that back the WFP, conspicuously the 300,000-member 1199/SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. This SEIU affiliate boasts one of the most effective political organizations inside or outside the labor movement, and raises tons of money for candidates it supports.

Dragged down by her support of ACORN, which is bound to be incomprehensible -- and indefensible -- to most New Yorkers, including a lot of Democrats, she'll need every penny and every phone call that 1199/SEIU can throw her way.

Then again, Rudy may not run. If so, Gillibrand may be the luckiest Senator in the country.

Any thoughts? Post a comment.

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