By Dr. Lee M. Miringoff
Kirsten Gillibrand and Harold Ford Jr. are improbable rivals for the U.S. Senate seat held only recently by Hillary Clinton. But, then again, Hillary Clinton was inevitably White House bound and Governor Spitzer was thought to be considering then Lieutenant Governor David Paterson to fill her unexpired senate term. Okay. So, things don’t always work out as planned.
Now, the Obama White House seems bent on chasing away any would-be Gillibrand challengers. So far, the strategy has been successful. At least until former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr. entered the picture. But, what do New York Democratic voters think about all of this? In the latest Marist Poll, Gillibrand has the early lead with 43% to 24% for Ford. A full 33% are undecided.
Gillibrand is not particularly strong. Her approval rating statewide lags at 24%. She remains an unelected incumbent, picked by an unelected, unpopular governor. Ford is largely unknown to New Yorkers and apparently doesn’t know New York too well either. His comment that he has only seen the five New York City boroughs from a helicopter is the local equivalent of Sarah Palin’s claim to be able to see Russia from Alaska.
Both Gillibrand and Ford have a big strategic obstacle to overcome in order to run successfully statewide in New York. Gillibrand no longer represents a conservative upstate New York congressional district. Ford, a newcomer to New York, brings with him a voting record and campaign positions from Tennessee. Both have a lot of work to do in convincing New York Democrats that their views are compatible with this more liberal electorate. They both have a lot of ground to cover. Yet to be defined as flip-floppers, each can legitimately be accused of tailoring their positions to the electorate they now face. Had Darwin advanced a political theory of evolution, it would serve as a convenient reference for this 2010 senate race.
Miringoff discusses how the two relatively unknown candidates will try to win over New Yorkers: