Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg)  

New York's Gillibrand Takes First Step Toward Presidential Race

(Bloomberg) -- New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced Tuesday she’s taking a first step toward formally running for president in 2020, joining what’s shaping up to be the biggest field of Democratic candidates in a generation.

“I’m filing an exploratory committee for president of the United States tonight,” Gillibrand said during a taping of CBS’s “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”

She’s one of a dozen congressional Democrats who are either considering or have announced their intention to seek the party’s 2020 presidential nomination, along with as many as another dozen current or former federal, state and local officeholders eyeing a bid.

Gillibrand plans to make stops this weekend in Iowa, where caucuses a little more than a year from now will mark the start of the nominating race.

Gillibrand has positioned herself as a leader of the #MeToo movement. She was the first senator to call on former Democratic Senator Al Franken to resign after multiple women accused him of inappropriate behavior, and has relentlessly pushed to overhaul how the military handles allegations of sexual assault and harassment during a decade in the Senate. Last year, she tweeted that the future is "female."

She struck some populist notes in her appearance on Colbert’s program, saying political leaders needed to confront institutional racism, corruption in Washington and “special interests that write legislation in the dead of night.”

“I’ll fight for other people’s kids as hard as I would fight for my own, which is why I believe health care should be a right and not a privilege,” Gillibrand said, listing her reasons for running. “It’s why I believe we should have better public schools for our kids because it shouldn’t matter what block you grew up on. And I believe anybody who wants to work hard enough should be able to get whatever job training they need to earn their way into the middle class.”

Democratic Field

Gillibrand, 52, has proven she’s able to raise large amounts of money. She reported having $10.5 million in cash left over from her 2018 senatorial campaign, an amount second only to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren among likely Democratic presidential candidates. But there are other potential candidates, including Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris and former Representative Beto O’Rourke, who also have formidable fundraising lists.

Among the other potential competitors in the Democratic race are former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders, both of whom would enter the campaign with a solid bloc of supporters, and Senator Amy Klobuchar.

Warren has already formed an exploratory committee and has been making stops in states with early nominating contests. Former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro made his plans to run official over the weekend, joining former Representative John Delaney as a declared candidate. Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard said last week that she also will run.

Gillibrand’s decision to explore a campaign is a turnabout from her pledge in a 2018 debate
that she’d serve a full six-year term if re-elected. She received 67 percent of
the vote in solidly Democratic New York, receiving hundreds of thousands more
votes than Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo in his re-election. She hinted at
her plans on Colbert’s program just days after winning re-election.

Shifting Positions

The New York senator will likely also face questions about her ideological transformation. She disowned views on immigration and guns that she expressed when she represented a conservative upstate House district. Her positions shifted after she was appointed in 2009 to fill the Senate seat Hillary Clinton vacated to become secretary of state. She defended the seat in a 2010 special election and won a full six-year term in 2012.

Representing a broader constituency with power centers in liberal urban areas, Gillibrand tacked to the left. She favored more gun regulation and supports expanding health insurance options through "Medicare for all."

She’s been a fierce critic of Trump, regularly voting against his nominees. She was the only senator to oppose James Mattis for defense secretary one of just 11 Democrats to vote against John Kelly for homeland security secretary at the beginning of Trump’s administration.

A lawyer, Gillibrand was born in Albany, New York’s state capital.

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