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Gillibrand makes her pitch to Michigan voters: I can beat Trump

Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand keeps it simple.

“I’m going to give you just two minutes on why I’m going to win, and then you can ask me any question you want,” Gillibrand told a crowd of about 200 mostly white, suburban Democratic voters in Metro Detroit Monday night.

With a crowded, noisy field of 2020 hopefuls and a long primary race ahead, Gillibrand’s stump speech is meant to make Democratic voters feel like they just had a really good first date: plenty of progressive battle cries to spark some excitement, but enough talk about “common sense” appeal to seem like a keeper.  

“The reason why I’m going to beat President Trump is this: my story,” Gillibrand said, describing her successful congressional campaigns in red districts, up against attack ads as a young mom with a toddler and infant in tow.

“I won that campaign by a 24-point margin. So the reason why I will defeat President Trump is my entire time in Congress, I have chosen to bring people together. I have chosen to reach across the aisle to get things done, even in the last Congress, a Republican House, Senate, President – I got 18 bills passed. Even with Ted Cruz!” she said to applause.  

Touting her years on the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, Gillibrand says that work means she “knows what it’s like to suffer from poisoned water.”   

“No person in this state, in this country, should be able to turn on the water and not know that that water is safe. For those families living in Flint, Michigan, that’s about institutional racism. For those families that live with PFAS in their waters, that’s about a lack of care; it’s about corporate greed,” she said.

Gillibrand took questions from the audience, including one from Jamila Carrington Smith of Beverly Hills.

“You come from New York, it’s a solidly blue state,” Carrington Smith began. “And so my question is, in a field of so many Democratic candidates, why you, as opposed to a candidate who – a Klobuchar – who can deliver a purple Minnesota, or an O’Rourke who can deliver a purple Texas?”

Gillibrand said she’s been able to win in Republican districts, even with a progressive platform. “In areas where I wasn’t as progressive, I wish I was. Because I could have won anyway. And one is gun violence. I didn’t care enough, to care about families around the state, to be against gun violence. And I didn’t create a record that I should have created. So when I became senator, I realized really fast: I should have done more.”

Afterward, Senator Gillibrand spoke to reporters about her plan to make higher education more affordable. One idea, she says, is a new spin on the GI bill: If you do community service for a year, you get two years free tuition at a community college or state school. Do two years, and get four years free. 

“I would expand public service to not just be the military, but all the other areas of public service,” Gillibrand said. “Health care, education, green new deal, green new jobs, and first responders.”

Carrington Smith, the voter who asked Gillibrand about her electability, said she was pleasantly surprised by Gillibrand.

“When it comes to the win, we need to think strategically about how we’re going to get there,” she said. “So I loved what she had to say. She actually surprised me. And I was really glad that I saw her today. But to be honest, I’m still not 100% sure, though, that you know, just in all reality, delivering New York – which probably will go to Democrats anyway – is enough.”

It’s early, she says. But she’s looking for “someone who can deliver the win.”

Gillibrand, she says, “was not on my list [until] today. And now, maybe, she is.”

This piece was edited on March 19, 2019 to clarify Gillibrand's statement about poisoned water. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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