Gillibrand, Looking Left, Launches Campaign For a Third Term

Ending months of speculation about her future, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a liberal Democrat from upstate New York, announced in recent days that she would seek a third full term next year.

Ms. Gillibrand, 56, enters the contest as a heavy favorite. The seat is considered safely Democratic, particularly in a presidential election year. And she has $4.4 million in cash and a string of recent legislative accomplishments — campaign assets she outlined in a memo rolling out her run last week.

On Thursday, Ms. Gillibrand said she was confident she would win despite Republicans’ strong performance in the state in November. She also dismissed rumors that had swirled among New York Democrats in recent months that she might give up the seat.

“I love being senator of New York, and I think my ability to deliver for our state has never been greater,” she said in a phone interview from Israel, where she was part of a Senate delegation visiting the country.

The most pressing question facing her campaign now is whether anyone from her own party will try to challenge her. After a string of high-profile primaries from the left in New York, Democratic strategists, politicians and donors have spent months speculating whether an ambitious young member of Congress, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Ritchie Torres, would take on Ms. Gillibrand.

Since her appointment in 2009, the senator has made herself one of the chamber’s most vocal proponents for women and families and has shed some moderate stances on guns and immigrations to become a reliably liberal vote. Those positions could make her difficult to defeat, particularly after she passed long-term priorities this term to combat gun trafficking and overhaul the way military sexual assault cases are adjudicated.

But some critics have said that since an ill-fated run for president in 2020, Ms. Gillibrand has at times appeared aloof from her home state and restless for another office, fueling speculation about her intentions. Nor has she benefited — fairly or not — from comparisons with the state’s senior senator, Chuck Schumer, whose omnipresence at even the smallest New York political gatherings and stature as the Senate majority leader have often left her in his shadow.

In the interview, Ms. Gillibrand said that she was committed to her current role and had “unfinished work” on Capitol Hill, including a national paid family and medical leave plan.

She detailed plans for a campaign to address concerns about crime, which helped Republicans notch their best performance in decades, and to increase outreach to urban and suburban communities that slipped from the party last fall. And she said that another run for the White House was “not in the cards for me in the next cycle.”

She also dismissed the threat of a primary. “I’m not concerned about that, and I would put my record against anyone,” she said.

Among the most frequently discussed potential challengers are Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a national leader of the party’s left wing, and Mr. Torres, a more moderate second-term congressman. Both are young, charismatic, ambitious lawmakers of color who live in the Bronx and could, in theory, put together compelling campaigns. But so far, there are no signs that either one is taking serious steps toward a direct confrontation.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez allowed a similar bubble of speculation to build around whether she would challenge Mr. Schumer in 2022 but ultimately did not pursue it. Her spokeswoman, Lauren Hitt, declined to comment for this story.

Mr. Torres recently cut a $10,000 check to Ms. Gillibrand’s re-election fund, one of her aides said — not typically a sign of antagonism. Asked by text on Wednesday if he was considering a primary, Mr. Torres said, “The answer to your question is ‘no.’”

Strategists close to New York’s Working Families Party and other left-leaning groups said their movement was now debating how to recalibrate after embarrassing losses in high-profile citywide and statewide races in 2021 and 2022. Besides, with her liberal track record, Ms. Gillibrand is not a top target.

“From where I am sitting, I don’t see a real appetite for a challenge,” said Camille Rivera, a Democratic strategist well connected in New York’s left-leaning political circles.

But Ms. Rivera said the senator does need to make some changes. “She definitely does need to be more present, but I found that she does a lot of work,” Ms. Rivera continued. “Mostly it’s taking on harder local issues like homelessness, affordable housing and mental health. ”

It is no clearer whom Republicans might put forward to challenge Ms. Gillibrand. Chele Farley, the party’s nominee who lost to Ms. Gillibrand by 33 points in 2018, said she was “focused on supporting the new Republican House majority” and had not thought about 2024.

Associates of Lee Zeldin, the former Republican congressman who came within six points of defeating Gov. Kathy Hochul last fall, said he had spoken about the race, but they discounted the chances he would run. In a statement, Mr. Zeldin said he was fielding calls about “various positions in government” but did not have “any update on that front to announce at this time.”

Behind the scenes, Ms. Gillibrand has set a busy pace in recent weeks, leaving nothing to chance. She has met with prominent labor leaders, county Democratic leaders across New York and several deep-pocketed donors.

Many of those Democratic leaders appear to be doing their best to keep a clear field for her.

A spokesman for Mr. Schumer, Angelo Roefaro, said the senior senator from New York would be fully supportive of Ms. Gillibrand’s campaign. Prominent union leaders made the point more starkly.

“My advice to anyone thinking of a primary is, don’t do it,” said John Samuelsen, the international president of the Transport Workers Union, which represents 34,000 New York transit workers.

“She’s the exact type of Democrat that has what it takes to stop the Republicans from swiping even more ground in New York State,” added Mr. Samuelsen, who recently had lunch with Ms. Gillibrand in Washington. “And she’s exactly the kind of Democrat that will fend off a challenge from the progressive left.”

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