Kirsten Gillibrand: Still not running in 2016, still hoping Hillary does

Gillibrand, in Union Square. (Reid Pillifant)
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Kirsten Gillibrand is not running for president in 2016.

It may never have occurred to you that that was even a possibility, but today she said it again, for the record.

"No, I have no plans to run," she said today, in response to a question at a Union Square press conference on food-stamp benefits.

"No plans" is famously a way for politicians to avoid actually answering that question definitively. But Gillibrand immediately followed up that answer by saying, not for the first time, that she planned to support Hillary Clinton if Clinton runs, in keeping with her support for a working-woman agenda (and not, particularly, her friendly history with the other would-be New York candidate in 2016, Andrew Cuomo).

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"I do have plans to support Hillary Clinton in 2016," she said. "I think what Emily's List is doing is really significant. They want to create a nationwide, grassroots movement to talk about what skills women bring to leadership. And we as Americans would like to have a woman commander in chief. Hillary Clinton is certainly my favorite. I will be advocating her, not only to run, and if she does choose to run, I will help her win."

In response to a follow-up question alluding to the fact that Clinton will be nearly 70 in 2016, Gillibrand, who is 46, said, "I have no concerns about her age and in fact, I think her experience, her breadth of experience, her work as being secretary of state, as being senator of New York, as being first lady, really supports the argument that she is not only the most qualified, but she is prepared to be the commander in chief and to lead this nation in a very precarious time. ... I think Secretary Clinton is so well poised to run, not only a successful campaign for president, but I think she's poised to be a very extraordinary leader."

The idea of Gillibrand running for president in 2016 is pretty far-fetched. But as Maggie Haberman pointed out this week, her political status within the Democratic Party has risen, and continues to rise, rapidly. She's now a top-level fund-raising draw and an  effective advocate, and has finally rendered ludicrous the (usually wishful) concerns expressed about her own in-state electoral viability at various points since her appointment to the Senate by David Paterson.

The idea of Gillibrand running for president, at some point, is not a new one. 

Back in 2008, when Gillibrand was a newish congresswoman in a conservative-leaning upstate district, the New York Times included her in a story about women who could possibly succeed in becoming the first female president, if Clinton failed to win. (Gillibrand's name was mentioned alongside her friend, Gabby Giffords, as examples of young congresswomen who might run for governor, then president.)

That notion looked laughable after Gillibrand's appointment to the Senate in 2009, when a rocky roll-out suggested she might not be ready for the upper chamber, much less a national campaign. But with the help of Chuck Schumer, she discouraged all her primary challengers, which eventually allowed her to ease into the job, and, subsequently, the spotlight.

She won big in her first statewide race in 2010 and then won even bigger in 2012, and along the way, she established a national profile as a voice for progressive causes, particularly ones concerning women.

Gillibrand, who has a background as a corporate lawyer, has always been a strong fund-raiser, a skill that helped her upset a four-term Republican incumbent in 2006, and, more recently, has helped her engender good will from the women candidates she's funded through her Off The Sidelines political action committee.

In between, the money helped keep Democratic and Republican challengers at bay.

The practical result of the lack of competition was that she was given a relatively unimpeded path to national respectability. Once she figured out how to stay on message, there was nothing to stop her ascendance.

Gillibrand was never really pressed on her conveniently quick conversion on guns and gay rights, which were preconditions of her appointment to the Senate, by any opponent with standing to make the case to the public. (It was clearly not a winning message for either of her underfunded, unsuccessful Republican challengers.) 

The conversion story doesn't seem to matter much now to the progressive leaders who praise her, but it would inevitably come up in a Democratic primary. 

There was also a stint as a lawyer for tobacco companies, which would get another airing if she were in a competitive race.

Which, by all indications, won't be for a while.