Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Kirsten Gillibrand in NYTimes

Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

An Albany International Airport worker greeted his new congresswoman, Kirsten Gillibrand, with her mother, Polly Rutnik, and her son, Theo, 3.

Frenetic Start in Congress for One Democrat, Class of ’06

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — When Kirsten Gillibrand was elected to Congress this past November in a tide of Democratic victories, she soon learned that her campaigning was not over.

This political novice found herself in a precarious position: a Democrat trying to represent an overwhelmingly Republican district extending into the state’s North Country, a onetime Manhattan lawyer in a place of factory and mill workers, dairy farmers and retired military veterans.

Now, even as the congratulatory letters continue to trickle in, she often looks like a candidate who is still on the run. Ms. Gillibrand, 40, spends virtually every free moment scurrying back from Washington to her district to attend town hall gatherings, meet-and-greets at local malls and — yes, already — a fund-raiser.

That frenetic pace reflects her uncomfortable reality: that her victory last fall, like the success of Democrats nationwide, may have been an aberration that could be undone with a swing in the mood of the electorate or by formidable opposition.

Politically, the first term is typically when House incumbents are most at risk of defeat. And Kirsten Gillibrand is among the most vulnerable of this group. Even her closest advisers acknowledged during last year’s campaign that her odds of winning were slim, given that she was facing a four-term Republican incumbent in a district where Republicans outnumbered Democrats by roughly 80,000.

Gillibrand was criticized in a recent post on firedoglake for her middle of the road positions and constant fundraising; I don't think people understand just how conservative and Republican her district is. Having grown up there, I do.

More from the NYTimes article on the district:

The passion the war arouses in her district was illustrated at that meeting. A constituent rushed up to her and loudly warned her not to support any of the resolutions that Democrats were considering to express disapproval of Mr. Bush’s proposed troop buildup in Iraq.

Pointing directly at Ms. Gillibrand, the man, Dave Browner, told her that many lives were at stake. “You’re in the big leagues now,” he said, his voice rising. “Any resolution will put our troops in danger.”

Then, as he turned and began storming off, Ms. Gillibrand did something that seemed to disarm him: she gently held him by the arm and thanked him for his thoughts. But ultimately, she did not commit to a position.

(As it turned out, on Feb. 16 she voted for a nonbinding resolution denouncing the president’s plan but including two simple clauses expressing support for the troops.)

Roots in the District

Such passions typify the 20th Congressional District, a bedrock Republican area that encompasses dairy farms, stretches of Adirondack State Park and the northern counties of exurban New York City, including Columbia and upper Dutchess, areas that have increasingly drawn New York commuters and second-home buyers.

I'm not sure if this is good news or not for Gillibrand (I no longer trust the Grey Lady after they withheld information about Bush Administration lawbreaking before the 2004 election, and then there's Judy Miller and the Clinton attacks of the 1990s) but the Times says this article is part of continuing series:

The Freshman
Settling In
This is the first article in a series that will chronicle Kirsten Gillibrand’s first year in Congress.

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