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It's Kirsten Gillibrand's moment — if she can pull it off

It's Kirsten Gillibrand's moment — if she can pull it off
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New York Senator Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandBritish health secretary fires back at Trump over universal health care claims Trump on Dems’ ‘universal' health-care push: ‘No thanks’ Gillibrand calls for DOJ to investigate US Olympic Committee over abuse scandal MORE (D) has many people talking — including the president of the United States. After Gillibrand called for Trump’s resignation in response to sexual harassment accusations leveled against him, the President replied via tweet:  

Many observers noted the sexual innuendo implied by Trump’s tweet. Gillibrand responded that she and millions of other women would not be deterred by “sexist smears” designed to silence them. The editorial board of USA Today joined the kerfuffle stating that “A president who'd all but call a senator a whore is unfit to clean toilets in Obama's presidential library or to shine George W. Bush's shoes.”

The bevvy of sexual harassment and assault claims against both political and celebrity heavyweights has put gender relations squarely into focus. Time Magazine’s pegging of the biggest leaders of the #MeToo movement as the “person of the year” highlights the breadth of the issue. Trump has not been the sole target of Gillibrand’s remarks. She also called out Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonLongtime Clinton confidant blames Comey for 2016 loss Trump’s national monument rollbacks take effect A year after Obama, Dems still looking for replacement MORE, suggesting that he should have resigned in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and she was the first senator to call for Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenOvernight Finance: Senators near two-year budget deal | Trump would 'love to see a shutdown' over immigration | Dow closes nearly 600 points higher after volatile day | Trade deficit at highest level since 2008 | Pawlenty leaving Wall Street group Pawlenty departing Wall Street group as campaign rumors swirl Bachmann won't run for Franken's Senate seat because she did not hear a 'call from God' MORE’s (D-Minn.) resignation.  

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A new energy among women and particularly among Democratic women appears to have been unleashed with the recent goings-on. Gillibrand’s leadership in taking on Trump and ousting Franken has heightened her position among the Democratic base. This has led many to conclude that she may be a viable candidate in 2020. Nate Silver recently tweeted: “She’s running.” Although she is getting a lot of attention now, signs of a “draft Gillibrand” campaign can be seen in the 2016 Electoral College.

I have been surveying members of the Electoral College in each of the past five elections. These individuals compose the heart of both parties. Members of the body include party chairs, activists, and big donors. What they think about the political landscape matters. After all, these are the individuals who are conducting campaigns at the state and local levels. They are presumably among the most informed, partisan, and energetic members of the electorate.

Shortly after the 2016 election, I surveyed the body and among the questions I asked them was who they would like to see at the top of their party’s ticket in 2020. Among Democratic electors, the clear choice was Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenGovernment watchdog finds safety gaps in assisted living homes David Crosby: Shared dislike for Trump could reunite Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young Dem senators tell Trump he doesn’t have ‘legal authority’ to launch preemptive strike on North Korea MORE (D-Mass.). After Warren, electors identified three more female senators — Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisUK Labour leader hits back at Trump: We love our health system Dem senators tell Trump he doesn’t have ‘legal authority’ to launch preemptive strike on North Korea British health secretary fires back at Trump over universal health care claims MORE (D-Calif.), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharOvernight Regulation: EPA sued over water rule delay | House passes bill to ease ObamaCare calorie rule | Regulators talk bitcoin | Patient groups oppose FDA 'right to try' bill Overnight Finance: Senators near two-year budget deal | Trump would 'love to see a shutdown' over immigration | Dow closes nearly 600 points higher after volatile day | Trade deficit at highest level since 2008 | Pawlenty leaving Wall Street group Dem senator presses FTC to ramp up Equifax hack probe MORE (D-Minn.), and Gillibrand. Many indicated they would like to see diversity, youth, and vigor at the top of the ticket. While some electors showed a preference for Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenBiden says he would advise Trump against Mueller interview Biden on Trump's 'treason' comments: 'He's a joke' Joe Kennedy: Biden likely would have defeated Trump MORE or Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersTrump has declared war on our climate — we won’t let him win Stock slide bites boastful Trump, but rising wages great for GOP Millions should march on DC to defeat Trump Republicans MORE (I-Vt.), several noted their respective ages could be a detriment.  

Warren has been on the national stage for several years and there was speculation that she was going to run in 2016. While she is popular among progressives, she does come with baggage that could hurt her in the general election. Perhaps of most concern is the impression that she has played with the facts of her heritage. This would be off-putting to many moderates and “Never Trumpers.”

By contrast, Gillibrand has led a pretty quiet life in the Senate. During her time in the House, she was a member of the conservative Blue Dog coalition. She had won her House seat in a very conservative congressional district that had been in Republican hands for most of the last century. She had campaigned against granting amnesty for illegal immigrants and that she would work to protect the rights of gun owners. As a senator, she has softened her positions on both of these lightning rod issues. This “evolution” has invited claims of political opportunism.

Trump’s charge of her being a lightweight notwithstanding, she has become a reliable liberal voice in the Senate. She was a key player in overturning the military’s “don’t ask don’t tell” policy and calling for marriage equality. Her bona fides regarding women’s issues (abortion, health care, child care, and equal pay for equal work) has been consistent throughout her political career. And it is probably not an accident that her aides indicated that she was pulled out of a bipartisan bible study group to hear the news of the president’s tweet.

Gillibrand checks many of the boxes Democrats are looking for in 2020. This is evidenced by the positive response among Democratic electors after the 2016 election. Her feud with Trump and her willingness to speak out against members of her own party has given her a significant voice on the national stage. Although Warren, Harris, Klobuchar, Biden, and Sanders and generated interest, this is Kirsten Gillibrand’s moment.

One author has claimed that Trump has given Gillibrand her “origin story.” It’s a story that fits the moment and serves as a clear counterbalance to politics in the age of Trump. Two thousand years ago, Publilius Syrus wrote that “a good opportunity is seldom presented, and is easily lost.” If Gillibrand has any aspirations for 2020, she should seek to make the most of this opportunity or it could be lost forever.

Robert Alexander is Professor of Political Science at Ohio Northern University and author of “Presidential Electors and the Electoral College: An Examination of Lobbying, Wavering Electors, and Campaigns for Faithless Votes.”