Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997.
On stage for a panel discussion here, Ashley Judd, the actress and activist, spoke of women she met in war-torn parts of Africa who conceived children as a result of rape. Suddenly she made an obscene hand-on-arm gesture -- and declared it her message to Rep. Todd Akin, the Missouri GOP Senate candidate who suggested women can somehow block unwanted pregnancies in cases of what he called "legitimate rape."
Surprised laughs and whoops erupted from the audience of a couple hundred for the meeting Wednesday, hosted by the pro-abortion-rights EMILY's List and Marie Claire magazine.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, one of four other panelists, lightly advised Judd that should she ever run for office, "you should say, 'I strongly disagree,' " and skip the gesture.
Later in the program, Gillibrand, a Democrat, gave additional advice to first-time candidates: "Know what your landscape is ahead of time, and compete." And in the absence of public campaign financing, she urged them to overcome any qualms about calling up "everyone you've ever known" for money.
For New York's junior senator, this is the fourth year of a charmed hectic ride in the express lane of U.S. politics, one that has sped her into the role of seasoned politician. She's even accruing national celebrity: Last night she appeared on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and Thursday she speaks to the DNC's Iowa delegation.
She hustled through the convention's second day as a candidate this year against Wendy Long, a Republican judicial activist with way less money who skipped her own party's convention last week.
Gillibrand, 45, a married mother who hails from an Albany political family, sails with the winds of partisanship, and arguably gender, at her back. It didn't come up in the talk-panel appearance that she was appointed by Gov. David A. Paterson to the Senate job at the start of her second congressional term. Top men of the Democratic Party then pressured potential rivals in 2010 not to challenge her in a primary. She won a special election to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as the only woman holding statewide office.
All the whispered typecasting of Gillibrand, by some dubious Democrats, as a self-promoting "Tracy Flick," from the 1999 movie "Election," doesn't seem to slow her ride. Hours before the forum, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli bade her from the podium at the New York delegation breakfast Wednesday: "Kirsten, we'll give you the biggest margin of victory you've ever seen this year!"
Gillibrand had just given her own four-minute booster speech that included remarks supporting same-sex marriage, the theme of the day. "Stephanie Miner and Keith Wright, our fabulous co-chairs! . . . How many thought Michelle Obama was am-AZING last night? . . . I looked around the room and realized that EVERYBODY here is important! . . . This is the heart and blood of the Democratic Party in our state . . . "
Being in the Gillibrand express lane means she would leave the stage to a crush of delegates seeking pictures with her as well as news media. It meant fielding the expected questions of the day with the expected talking points (as in knowing the landscape ahead of time). She argued there really is a GOP war on women, she said. She said President Barack Obama has "stood side-by-side" with Israel.
And finally, would she serve a full six years if elected?
"Yes," she said -- as aides conducted her out through the crush toward the next event on the fast track of politics.