Gillibrand charts trip to Iowa, making 2020 run look imminent

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat considering a presidential run in 2020, is planning a trip to I...

Posted: Jan 11, 2019 8:45 PM
Updated: Jan 11, 2019 8:45 PM

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat considering a presidential run in 2020, is planning a trip to Iowa next weekend, a Iowa Democrat with knowledge of the plans tells CNN.

The trip comes as Gillibrand inches closer to a bid and begins to build a campaign operation that is expected to be based in Troy, New York, an upstate town close to where Gillibrand lives, according to multiple Democrats who have talked to Gillibrand's team about the campaign.

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A second Iowa Democrat tells CNN that Gillibrand and her team have begun courting possible staffers in the state and are reaching out a to a "ton" of possible supporters.

Gillibrand has also made several key hires, signaling that she is close to making her bid official and an announcement could be imminent.

Gillibrand has locked in Dan McNally, formerly the political director at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, as her 2020 campaign director, according to a source with knowledge of the hire. McNally, a longtime Democratic operative who managed Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet's 2016 campaign, has worked at both the DSCC and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Sources tell CNN that Gillibrand has hired Meredith Kelly, the former communications director for the DCCC, to be the communications director on her expected 2020 run. The New York Times first reported Kelly's hire.

Gillibrand has also tapped Emmy Bengtson, digital director to Gavin Newsom for Governor in 2018 and deputy social media director for Hillary Clinton in 2016, as her deputy communications director, according to a source with knowledge of the hire.

Prior to Newsom and Clinton, Bengtson worked on digital strategy for Planned Parenthood and Barack Obama's 2012 campaign. She was widely considered one of the top digital staffers available in 2020. Bengtson declined to comment.

Gillibrand told CNN in December that she was "definitely thinking" about running for president and would "make a decision soon."

Politico first reported Gillibrand was planning the trip to Iowa.

Gillibrand's expected trip to Iowa will come two weeks after Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat who is exploring a run for president, headlined a series of events during a multi-day swing through the state.

A Gillibrand spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Gillibrand, should she officially enter the 2020 field soon, would launch with $10.5 million in the bank, a sizable war chest that would make her one of the most financially formidable candidates.

As a senator representing the nation's financial capital, she also has ties to deep-pocketed donors. The securities and investment sector ranks among the top five industries supporting Gillibrand in recent years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

But Gillibrand ran afoul of some powerful Democratic donors after leading calls urging Minnesota Democrat Al Franken to resign from the Senate. Franken quit following allegations that he touched women inappropriately.

Gillibrand ran for re-election in 2018, raising nearly $18 million in a race where she coasted to victory over a little-known rival.

While the Senate run helped replenish her campaign coffers, it also provided opponents with a potent attack and a question Gillibrand has to answer: She promised voters in 2018 to serve her full term.

"I will serve my six-year term," she said during a Senate debate when asked about her 2020 plans.

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