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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has long been putting gender forward as her issue

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks Sunday at her Manhattan

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand speaks Sunday at her Manhattan office as she announces a push on the Modernizing Obstetric Medicine Standards Act, along with model Christy Turlington Burns, second from right. Credit: Corey Sipkin

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand fits the description of a fairly conventional Democrat with a fairly transparent marketing strategy.

Her focus on gender and high-profile promotion of female candidacies preceded by years the onset of #MeToo and the iconic 2016 election. So did her high-profile clashes with the Pentagon over sexual assault in the military.

A daughter of two well-connected Albany machine Democrats, she first became a corporate lawyer, then a member of Congress from a purple district. In 2009, Democratic Gov. David A. Paterson appointed her to succeed Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton, who was named U.S. Secretary of State. Gillibrand won the seat in subsequent elections.

Now she's taking a step for the big prize.

Having expressed undying enthusiasm for her predecessor, Gillibrand made a minimalist display of distance from the Clintons in 2017 by saying former President Bill Clinton's resignation in 1998 would have been the "appropriate response." She later sought to clarify that in today's climate, Clinton would have had to quit because of his sexual relationship with a White House intern.

Gillibrand soon called on Trump to resign over his own alleged sexual harassment. This drew a predictable bit of nasty trash talk from the president on Twitter, which any challenger can expect and might even welcome.

Right now it is all about the party. Reports emerged last year that Democratic donors were angry that Gillibrand led the charge for Sen. Al Franken's resignation before sexual misconduct charges against the Minnesota Democrat could be fully vetted.

Gillibrand's upstate background differentiates her from other made-in-New York contestants, or potential 2020 candidates: President Donald Trump, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, ex-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Mayor Bill de Blasio, all downstaters.

She also comes from different ideological terrain than, say, fellow Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who last month announced her own presidential exploratory committee. Warren (D-Mass.) established her profile early on as a critic of unregulated capitalism and of giant banks. It would be hard to imagine Warren at the outset of her Senate career being toasted by ex-Sen. Alfonse D'Amato — a friend of her father, Douglas Rutnik — as Gillibrand was.

In her youth, she'd been an intern for D'Amato but in her last campaign last year, the Republican from Long Island denounced her, costing neither of them.

Electing a woman is not an intrinsically progressive exercise any more than electing a man. Think of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a conservative icon.

Gillibrand was quoted last year as saying realistically that in the presidential scrum, "You’ll have many women running. It’s not going to be just one woman running."

Perhaps she envisions the others getting behind her — or her getting behind one of them — before this is all over.

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