Four years ago, she was a freshman congresswoman from a conservative upstate district. Today, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is becoming a national name, with talk of a White House run even in her future. Our Josh Robin has that story from Charlotte.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- What a difference from 2008 for Kirsten Gillibrand. Largely unknown an election cycle ago, Wednesday she soaked in applause from a New York audience. Then before a national audience, she remembered her first race for Congress.
"A number of very senior politicians came up to me and said 'This should not be your first race, Kirsten. The guy you're running against is tough, is mean, it's gonna be a dirty campaign. I did not care at all," Gillibrand said.
She won and caught a big break when David Paterson appointed her to fill Hillary Clinton's Senate seat in 2009. Since then, the 45-year-old daughter of a well-connected political family is now a respected leader, though without the iconic status of those who occupied the seat before her.
"Kirsten Gillibrand has a very bright future. She's young enough, she's smart enough. She's experienced enough in both the private sector and the public. And she's certainly ambitious enough," said Larry levy of Hofstra University.
Ambition for what, she's not saying. Gillibrand is polled to win a full term in November, which she says she will serve out. But a planned visit this week to Iowa's delegation is flaming talk of a white house run.
She also got headlines for her work getting benefits for 9/11 workers and ending a ban on gay soldiers serving openly. Potentially aiding a run for higher office, she's also fundraising nationally.
"We have tea party Republicans that we will take out in this election cycle. And with the help of the people in this room, we will be successful," GIllibrand said.
Some New York democrats in that same room wanted Gillibrand's seat. And former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford flirted with a challenge in 2010.
But Ford ended up not running. And Gillibrand hasn't faced a primary, nor a particularly strong Republican opponent. So the chatter surrounds how Gillibrand shares the stage with Senator Charles Schumer. Longtime political analyst Larry Levy says she's worked the imbalance to her advantage.
Levy said, "Kirsten Gillibrand was able to make sure that Chuck Schumer knew that she wasn't a threat to him. That she wanted to be schooled by him. He was able to connect her to people in Washington she didn't already know."
And she can parlay that to her advantage in the future, whatever that may be.