Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) jumped into the 2020 presidential race on Tuesday with a campaign that will make gender more of a central focus than any other candidate.
The focus was clear right from the start.
“I’m going to run for president of the United States because, as a young mom, I am going to fight for other people’s kids as hard as I fight for my own, which is why I believe health care is a right and not a privilege,” Gillibrand said on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” when she announced the formation of her exploratory committee.
In a two-minute introductory video released with her announcement, the first thing highlighted is that she’s a mom to two boys.
Gillibrand has been an advocate for getting more women involved in politics and has made women’s issues a focus of her work in the Senate. Women powered the 2018 midterm elections, leading to a record number of women running for office and getting elected to seats in the House. Much of Gillibrand’s strategy rests on winning over these engaged female voters.
“Kirsten has been a champion for women and families her entire career, and she is excited to show voters her style of leadership focused on compassion, courage and the determination to get things done,” said Gillibrand communications director Meredith Kelly.
“The campaign believes that the lesson of 2018 is that the future of the Democratic Party is with women; opposition to Donald Trump’s presidency is fueled by women; a majority of women around the country took a greater interest in politics and became more involved in the political process after 2016,” a Gillibrand adviser added. “They contributed, volunteered, voted, ran for office and won.”
Gillibrand, of course, isn’t the only woman running for president, and she isn’t starting out as a frontrunner. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) have already announced that they’re running, and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is widely expected to jump into the field as well.
But Gillibrand is expected to make gender a more central component of her run than any of the other candidates in the race, reflecting the focus of her time in the Senate.
She is perhaps best known for her years-long fight against sexual assault in the military and on college campuses. She also pushed her Senate colleagues to pass legislation overhauling how Congress deals with sexual harassment in its ranks.
Gillibrand’s introductory video also highlighted her work securing funds for 9/11 first responders, repealing “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and opposing Trump’s agenda. But even those accomplishments subtly seemed to play to her emphasis on being a mom, stressing that she can get things done.
More recently, Gillibrand has been in the national spotlight for calling out prominent men in the Democratic Party for sexual harassment ― moves that have earned her some enemies.
In November 2017, Gillibrand said that Bill Clinton should have resigned as president during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Calling out the former president was shocking within the party, but it was even more eye-catching because Gillibrand was close to the Clinton world and Hillary Clinton was something of a mentor to her.
The following month, Gillibrand then became the first Democratic senator to publicly call on then-Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to go after multiple women accused him of engaging in sexual misconduct.
The move wasn’t all that surprising, considering Gillibrand’s record and career. But it still angered some of Franken’s defenders, including prominent donors like George Soros saying they would refuse to support her in 2020.
Gillibrand refused to back down and went after Soros.
“If standing up for women who have been wronged makes George Soros mad, that’s on him,” Gillibrand told HuffPost in August. “But I won’t hesitate to always do what I think is right. For nearly a year, we have seen countless acts of courage as women and men have spoken hard truths about sexual assault and sexual harassment and demanded accountability.”
This piece was updated with comment from the Gillibrand campaign.