By the numbers, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s bid for president is foundering.
Support for her candidacy has hovered around 1 percent in national polling of Democrats.
Contributions to her campaign in its first three months totaled just under $3 million.
And viewers of her CNN town hall on April 9 numbered 491,000, rating worse than nine of the 10 forums before hers.
The New York senator has struggled to break into a top tier of Democratic presidential contenders, which includes former Vice President Joe Biden, who is not yet a formal candidate but who polls at an average 30 percent; Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who raised $18.2 million in his first quarter; and Sen. Kamala Harris of California, whose CNN town hall in January drew 1.95 million viewers.
Gillibrand, 52, of upstate Brunswick, since January has looked to make up for her lack of national name recognition by introducing herself to voters in the coffee shops and diners of Iowa, New Hampshire and other states with early nominating contests.
Last week, she made her fourth trip to Iowa for 10 public events in three days. The Hawkeye State holds its first-in-the-nation caucuses next Feb. 3.
Her team has sought to project confidence.
“Our campaign’s strategy from day one has focused on Kirsten’s ability to win over a room,” it writes in an April 14 memo to supporters shared with Newsday. “This intentionally local approach doesn’t focus on winning the national news cycle, the Twitter primary or even statewide polling this early in the game.”
Political observers noted Gillibrand’s difficulties but stressed that the 2020 election cycle is young.
“She doesn’t seem to be making a splash in any of the metrics that are traditionally used … so that has to be a little bit disheartening,” said Barbara Trish, a professor of political science at Grinnell College in Iowa. “But there’s a lot of time left.”
Gillibrand's polling numbers are enough to qualify her to participate in the Democratic National Committee debates June 26 and 27 in Miami and July 30 and 31 in Detroit.
She supplemented her first-quarter contributions with $9.6 million left over from her 2018 Senate re-election bid, creating the fourth-largest war chest among the Democrats.
And although her CNN town hall performed poorly in ratings, her MSNBC town hall a month earlier on March 18 brought in 1.24 million viewers.
The voters' view
Voters who have met the senator on the trail said she left a good impression, even if she didn’t lock in their support. They said it’s too early for them to commit to a candidate, especially considering the dense field of Democrats with overlapping platforms.
Gillibrand, like others in the primary, has stumped in support of Medicare for All and health care as a right for every American as well as the Green New Deal to combat climate change with social and economic investments.
Lisa Kahookele, 56, met Gillibrand in January at a deli in Boone, Iowa.
“When she spoke, she was clear and direct. She seems like a good leader, but she also has a lot of competition,” said Kahookele, a community college instructor who also has met other Democratic hopefuls Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, former U.S. Housing Secretary Julián Castro and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
“There’s others on the menu who seem more in line with what I’m looking for in the next president," Kahookele said.
Anne Ketterer, co-chairwoman of the New Hampshire Democratic Women’s Caucus, met Gillibrand in March at a brewery in Manchester, New Hampshire.
“I thought I knew her, but then I went to her event and was blown away,” Ketterer said, adding, however, that she hasn't decided on a candidate.
Ketterer said she doesn’t believe polling accurately reflects the electorate this early in the race and noted the sheer quantity of contenders in play.
“They’re all facing this same issue of: How do I get heard?” she said.
In addition to competing with each other, Democrats also must look to facing Republican President Donald Trump in the general election.
Trump had $35 million in contributions to his re-election campaign in the first quarter, the figure bolstered by $57.2 million in transferred funds, including money raised by the Republican National Committee.
Gillibrand’s $3 million in contributions put her behind the other five U.S. senators vying for the Democratic nomination as well as former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana. But she is fourth in cash on hand with $10.2 million in the bank.
The amount “puts her in one of the strongest positions financially of all of these candidates in the field and prepares her for the long campaign ahead,” said Meredith Kelly, Gillibrand campaign communications director.
'I want to meet everybody'
Christina Reynolds, who worked on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and former President Barack Obama’s 2008 bid, agreed that Gillibrand's war chest is more than enough to keep the campaign running.
“This race is going to be won by going out, by convincing voters,” said Reynolds, now vice president of communications for EMILY’s List, which boosts female Democratic candidates who favor abortion rights. “It’s what she did in her district.”
Reynolds was referencing Gillibrand’s successful 2006 campaign for the House against a Republican incumbent in the red Capital District. Gillibrand has talked often in the 2020 race about her rural upbringing in the Albany area and how she believes she can connect with voters of all stripes.
“I can go to any community in my state,” Gillibrand told the crowd at the March event in Manchester, New Hampshire that Ketterer attended. “The red, red parts of upstate New York; the blue, blue parts of New York City; the purple parts of Long Island and Westchester; and listen and find the common ground.”
C-Span footage of the event shows the senator shaking hands, posing for photos and greeting babies.
“I’m impressed. You came to the back,” a man at the rear of the brewery tells Gillibrand when she reaches him.
“Of course, I did. I want to meet everybody," the senator responds.
Gillibrand officially kicked off her campaign with a March 24 rally in Manhattan. She gathered a crowd in the hundreds, far fewer than what Harris, Buttigieg and others attracted with launches in their respective home states.
Katherine Scheirman, 69, of Manhattan, was a Gillibrand supporter in attendance. The retired U.S. Air Force colonel said she admired Gillibrand's yearslong fight against sexual misconduct in the military.
"She took it on when there really wasn’t a political benefit for her," Scheirman said. "It really took a lot of courage."
But asked whether Gillibrand has her vote, Scheirman couched her response with "probably."