Albany Notebook: Gillibrand's run for White House is as doomed as Woodstock 50

Joe Mahoney 

New York's summer of 2019 will be recalled for two fiascos — plans for the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock rock festival and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

With less than five weeks to go before the planned date for the Woodstock extravaganza, the sponsors have yet to secure a permit, having abruptly switched proposed venues twice. The Oneida County town of Vernon, far from the scene of the original concert, just shot down what appeared to be a Hail Mary application for a site permit.

Woodstock 50 has always been puzzling to this music fan. For starters, these days there are an abundance of festivals, and concert goers seem to appreciate that they specialize in particular genres rather than being all over the music map.

The original Woodstock succeeded in part because, at the time, it was fairly original. But you can't be original through duplication. If Woodstock 50 sputters into oblivion, with not a single ticket sale having been sold as the sand in the hourglass runs out, why would anyone be surprised?

The presidential campaign of New York's junior senator sparks similar questions. The biggest one: Why?

She has been missing from New York so frequently in recent months it's a wonder the state GOP has not circulated milk cartons with her photograph on the side panels.

As I write this, Gillibrand, having wrapped up seven days of campaigning in New Hampshire followed by two days of wooing voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, was heading to Iowa, where she was to make remarks at the Progress Iowa Corn Feed in Cedar Rapids.

The Albany native had what appeared to be a colossal opportunity recently when she was among the 20 Democratic primary candidates who appeared in nationally televised debates. But she ended up with no headlines, and was left out of the buzz that erupted when Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, stole the spotlight by ripping into former Vice President Joe Biden.

After the debates, Gillibrand's national poll numbers remained where they were before the forums — showing her support at below 1 percent.

But despite a string survey results suggesting the nation has virtually no interest in Gillibrand's candidacy, she has not gotten the memo.

Meanwhile, New Yorkers, during many votes in the upper legislative chamber on Capitol Hill, are not being fully represented. We reported less than a month ago that Gillibrand has already skipped more than three dozen votes this year while she was away campaigning in New Hampshire and Iowa.

Gillibrand's stop in Michigan on July 12 was billed as her "Trump Broken Promises" tour. That's ironic because the senator last year promised New Yorkers she would serve a full term once re-elected to her Senate seat last November.

Gillibrand's campaign has been criticized for being almost solely focused on women's issues. A news account of a Michigan stop suggests she may be making an adjustment, as she apparently had much to say about her support for gun control. Not mentioned was the fact that while serving as an upstate congresswoman, she portrayed herself as a "Blue Dog" Democratic moderate who was a staunch supporter of gun rights.

Such core position switches as well as her 2017 criticism of former President Bill Clinton (she maintained he should have resigned amid the Monica Lewinsky scandal, after being silent on that subject for years) and her call later that year for the resignation of her former friend, then Sen. Al Franken, in the wake of harassment allegations, has sparked suggestions from critics that Gillibrand is an opportunistic chameleon.

But whether these are factors in why her campaign has turned into a dud or whether the front-running rivals simply offer more sizzle is not clear.

What is clear, veteran New York Democratic political consultant George Arzt told me, is that her campaign is now in the breakdown lane.

"It's a head-scratcher why she got in this race," said Arzt. He pointed to the fact that two other women who are colleagues of Gillibrand, Harris and Sen. Liz Warren, D-Massachusetts, came out of the recent debates in strong position and remain viable.

Gillibrand, despite seven trips to New Hampshire and another seven to Iowa, has scant support in those states, and Democratic elected officials in her home state are not lining up to endorse her.

Meanwhile, Gillibrand is running the risk that New Yorkers will become annoyed with her for spending so many weeks away from the state and Capitol Hill in her quixotic pursuit of replacing President Donald Trump in 2020.

There are suggestions Gillibrand is sticking it out in hopes of being named the eventual nominee's running mate.

But Politics 101 dictates that New York is so blue that it is a lock for Democrats even if the ticket — to borrow from Woodstock history — turns out to be topped by Wavy Gravy.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com