How to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche

Stefani Reynolds

The Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is a traditional advertising industry principle. The political application of USP is that a candidate needs a special identity or niche to stand out in a crowded field.

Consider Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) muddle. She’s certainly qualified. She is 52 and has served in the U.S. Senate representing New York since 2009 when she was appointed to fill the vacancy created when President Obama nominated Hillary Clinton to be his Secretary of State. She served one term in U.S. House of Representatives from upstate New York before ascending to the upper chamber and winning two reelection campaigns to keep her seat.

{mosads}But there are more than a dozen Democratic presidential candidates. She is only one of six United States senators campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination including three other female senators.

The problem she faces is how to break through the clutter.

Year of the woman?

Two of her opponents in the Democratic fight — former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — started the race with almost universal name recognition. Those two are the front runners in a new CNN survey of Democratic primary voters. The only two other candidates with double digit support in the poll are Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas). Gillibrand languishes way back in the pack with only 1 percent of the vote which just reaches the minimal standard the Democratic National Committee has established for inclusion in the televised Democratic presidential debates.

Both Democratic front runners are men but 2020 should and could be the “Year of the Woman” in presidential politics. The male front runners have soft leads and a woman could easily charge into the vacuum if either of their candidacies falter. 

The two most prominent congressional Democrats, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) are women. My apologies to U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer but AOC’s new Time Magazine cover sealed the deal. A recent Rolling Stone cover with the headline “Women Shaping the Future” featuring Pelosi, Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.) is another graphic example of female clout on Capitol Hill.

President Trump has driven many women into the Democratic Party and they will be important voters in Democratic presidential primaries and attend caucuses.

Women won major victories in contested Democratic congressional primaries against male opponents in 2018.

The #MeToo movement continues to be a driving force in society thanks to brave female victims and loutish men like Trump. Gillibrand could be the beneficiary of the power of the #MeToo movement. She used her position on the Senate Armed Forces Committee to drag the military kicking and screaming out of its 19th century treatment of service women who were victims of sexual abuse. Gillibrand was brave enough to call out former Senate colleague, Al Franken of Minnesota for sexual misconduct.

Biden and Sanders don’t need USPs because they’re both so well established. O’Rourke attracts media attention just by standing on table tops. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has created a niche in the race by being the issue driven candidate. Harris, the only woman in double digits in the CNN survey, got off to a great start with an overflow crowd of about 30,000 fans attending her announcement in her hometown of Oakland followed by an appearance on a CNN Town Hall that set a ratings record.

Where does that leave Kirsten Gillibrand?

Focus on families

Gillibrand needs to carve out her own niche in the Democratic presidential race. Her niche is a focus on families.

She made that clear when she announced her candidacy on Stephen Colbert’s “The Late Show.” She said, “I’m going to run for president of the United States because as a young mom, I’m going to fight for other people’s kids as hard as I would fight for my own.”


True to her word, Gillibrand has sponsored family friendly proposals that may not be hot button national issues but are matters of grave concern to many Americans.

Earlier this year, Gillibrand introduced legislation that would provide12 weeks of paid leave for workers to care for a new child or for a family member who is ill.

She also co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) to fight the opioid crisis that plagues many families. The legislation would limit prescriptions to seven days

Speed bumps

Gillibrand has a very liberal voting record during her 10-year tenure in the Senate but she still hasn’t earned the trust of many progressives in the Democratic Party.

Her brave stand against sexual assault has created problems for her candidacy. Many progressive Democrats resent Gillibrand for calling on Franken — a liberal hero — to resign from of the Senate after he was accused of sexual harassment.

During her short tenure in the House of Representatives between 2007 and 2009, she was a Blue Dog Democrat with a decidedly moderate voting record. She has reversed positions on gun control and other hot button issues to become one of the most liberal members of the Senate.

{mossecondads}Democratic primary voters abhor the role of corporate money in politics. Big corporate contributions will be a problem for Gillibrand and other presidential hopefuls like Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and O’Rourke. Sanders and Warren will both profit from swearing off corporate contributions. Warren has upped the ante on the battle against money in politics by refusing to attend meetings with wealthy donors.  

To secure the Democratic presidential nod, Gillibrand hopes progressive primary voters overlook her transgressions and focus on her stellar voting record in the Senate. Gillibrand will try to reach the many Democrats who will cast a wide net to find a nominee who find a candidate who can end Trump’s tenure in the White House.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Dateline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. 

This is the seventh piece in a series of profiles by Bannon on 2020 Democratic hopefuls. Read his analysis on former Rep. Beto O’Rourkeformer Govs. Jay Inslee and John Hickenlooper, former Vice President Joe BidenSen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former HUD Secretary Julian CastroSen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

Tags 2020 Democratic primary 20202 election Al Franken Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Bernie Sanders Brad Bannon Charles Schumer Cory Booker Cory Gardner Donald Trump Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Ilhan Omar Jahana Hayes Joe Biden Kamala Harris Kirsten Gillibrand Nancy Pelosi White House

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