That same type of perfect storm is brewing in the political atmosphere of New York State. It takes a vulnerable liberal incumbent, an aggressive former Tennessee Congressman and a former Republican Congresswoman and puts them together to create a scenario that, if all the timing is right, could make for a scenario that recreates in New York, the same type of political Nor’ Easter that we saw in Massachusetts.
After being picked to fill Hillary Clinton’s vacated senate seat by New York’s unpopular Governor David Paterson, Kirsten Gillibrand is seen as one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the U.S. Senate. Ironically her vulnerabilities are more exposed among fellow Democrats than it is with the loyal Republican opposition.
Initially, Gillibrand is most vulnerable to fellow Democrats who want to be the next U.S. Senator from New York.
Gillibrand remains largely unknown as a Senator. So far she has failed to become the champion of any issue and being picked by an unpopular Governor is not helping her. That is why everyone who is anyone looked at challenging her for the Democrat nomination.
Congressman Steve Israel was looking at launching his candidacy. So were several other state figures. But at the behest of President Obama, they all bowed out. The White House does not want to lose what is currently a safe seat because of a bloody primary battle. This was especially the case when it looked like the most popular Republican in the state, Rudy Giuliani might be the G.O.P. nominee against Gillibrand. But Giuliani declined to run, again. That essentially left the road to winning the general election clear for Gillibrand……..so long as she was not dragged through the mud in a primary.
The White House did a good job at discouraging competition. Most New York Democrats heeded the President’s advice and dropped any challenge to Kirsten Gillibrand. All except for one……former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford.
Ford is actually using his disobedience with the White House to his advantage. After getting much attention regarding his possible challenge to Senator Gillibrand, President Obama went very public in trying to deter Ford from actually running. But as Ford embarks on his” listening tour” of the state, he is taking that very public presidential demand and telling people that he will be an independent leader who will not take orders from anyone, including his fellow Democrat, President Obama.
Ford has billed his listening tour as a tool to help him to decide on whether or not he will run. But while shaking hands at a diner in Tappan, New York, he introduced himself by saying “I’m Harold Ford and I’m running for the U.S. Senate”. This Freudian slip was repeated quite a few times and each time, after he let the cat out of the bag, he quickly corrected himself and stated, “I’m thinking about running for the U.S. Senate”.
So it looks like Ford is actually going for it. He is just going through the motions at the moment and using the suspense to get a great deal of free publicity and exposure.
I did not think Ford would actually go through with a primary challenge to Gillibrand. Despite her low name I.D. and less than stellar approval ratings, Gillibrand’s negative ratings are among the lowest of any Democrat in the state and in just one year’s time, she has built quite a large war chest. With over $7 million raised since last February, she has raised more than any other senators with the exceptoion of Democrat Majority Leader Harry Reid and her New York colleague, the state’s senior senator, Chuck Schumer.
Given her support from the President along with her potential for getting her numbers up and her hefty fundraising abilities, I did not think Harold Ford would go for it. Especially given the fact that he will be labeled as a carpetbagger.
But Ford is extraordinarily power hungry. That is why he is no longer a Congressman from Tennessee. He gave that seat up when he chose to try to move up the political ladder by running for the U.S. Senate in that state. He lost.
The decision to run for that senate seat came shortly after Ford tried to became the Democrat leader of the House of Representatives.
He ran against Nancy Pelosi. He lost that too.
So now, with his Tennessee political fortunes exhausted, he moved to New York where he became a consultant for Merrill Lynch. That Wall Street name will be something that won’t help him if he does run. But I believe Harold understands that he could overcome that negative by going with the anti-incumbency sentiments and existing anger with the establishment. President Obama’s public attempt to discourage Harold Ford from running simply adds to this strategy. That is why Ford just might be able to get a lot of traction by claiming that he will not take orders from anyone.
If President Obama’s approval ratings continue to drop, and fails to even inspire Democrats, as was the case in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia, Ford’s opposing the President’s wishes will be to his advantage.
It is a gamble, but Harold Ford, Jr. is banking on distancing himself from President Obama and while he makes a run from the President and to the left of the political spectrum, he will hype up the fact that Kirsten Gillibrand is the President’s senator but he will be the people’s senator. The scenario is interesting and very plausible. But essential to it working will be Ford’s fundraising ability.
Winning the Democrat nomination for statewide office in New York is currently viewed as the real fight, because with Rudy out, there is little chance of a Republican winning. Unless of course the Democrat primary between Ford and Gillibrand leaves the winner bloody. If that happens, whether the nominee be Gillibrand or Ford, one Republican might be able to turn things around.
Former Governor George Pataki is considering a run. Against Gillibrand, he could possibly pull it off, but if his opponent were to be the independent minded Harold Ford, Pataki’s chances are diminished greatly. But Pataki is not the potential game changer. That person is former Congresswoman Susan Molinari.
Susan is the daughter of long serving, popular, former Republican New York Congressman Guy Molinari. When Guy did not get a position in President George H. W. Bush’s administration, he retired from Congress. Back then President Bush told Guy that he could not afford losing him in the House. Leaving was Guy’s way of saying “screw you”. So off he went. Guy then went on to become Borough President of Staten Island, the most Republican of New York City’s five counties. Replacing Guy in Congress was his daughter, City Councilwoman Susan Molinari.
For the longest time, Susan was the only Republican in the New York City Council and as such was already fairly well known. But after serving in Congress she soon became a darling of the Party.
Moderate in her politics, Susan played up her pro-choice stance with liberals and women while simultaneously playing up her defense and fiscal policies with conservatives. Both had an appreciation of her. But in 1997 after marrying Buffalo, New York’s former Congressman, Bill Paxon, Susan decided not to run for a urth term in Congress.
Her father has said that after no star candidate emerged to challenge Gillibrand, “All of a sudden I think, the best candidate in the entire country is my daughter”.
I know Susan, and I can tell you right now that she is not “the best candidate in the entire country”, but she could be one of the best positioned Republican candidates in New York to take a U.S. Senate seat away from Democrats.
If a bloody Gillibrand is the inevitable nominee, Susan will help to split the women’s vote, especially suburban soccer Moms. If Ford is the badly bruised winner of the primary, he will have severely depleted his campaign war chest and he will have also gone through a campaign that will surely have labeled him an outsider. Put up against native New Yorker, Susan Molinari, who can easily raise a substantial campaign fund, Tennessee Ford will find himself having a tough time beating her. Molinari will, again, get a substantial number of votes from women, she will hold down Democrat numbers coming out of New York City and she will be able to go toe to toe with Ford on who is more independent. In addition to all that, Harry will also have a tough time reconciling the more liberal Harold Ford of New York’s 2010 senate race, with the more conservative Harold Ford who ran in 2006 for the U.S. Senate from Tennessee. Many of his positions hav changed. Gay marriage is just one example. Among the more conservative Tennessee electorate, Harry was opposed to same sex marriage. Now, among more liberal New Yorkers, he is for same sex marriage. Which Ford would New Yorkers really be getting?
Kirsten Gillibrand will have all this amunition too but here’s where another part of this perfect storm comes into play.
Governor Paterson is African-American. He is going to be challenged for the gubernatorial nomination by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, an Itsalian-American. This situation is going to have an effect on a Gillibrand-Ford race.
Paterson is currently expected to lose to Cuomo, but one thing is for sure. Race will play a role and African-American New Yorker’s will be coming out for Governor Paterson.
While at the polls, a great many of them are likely to cast their senate primary vote for Harold Ford, Jr., who is also African-American. So no matter how much Gillibrand may attack Ford for flip-flopping, Ford can count on attratcing many black voters away from Gillibrand.
As a Republican, I for one do hope that Ford runs. By making a strong bid for the Democrat nomination, he will do much more good for the G.O.P. than he will for Democrats and if he wins that nomination, he will make it pretty easy for Susan Molinari to walk right up the middle and into the senate chambers of Washington, D.C..
Now all Republicans have to do is make sure that Susan Molinari becomes their nominee. If she does, New York might pull off a Massachusetts-like surprise that will add to the already substantial gains in Congress that Republicans are heading towards. But one without the other will not work. If Republicans don’t properly seed the storm clouds, their electoral drought will be long lasting.