In Concord, New Hampshire, Kirsten Gillibrand jokes that the women of Congress are going to beat the women of the press in this year’s annual Women’s Congressional Softball game. The New York senator says “the advantage they have is their average age is about 25, our average age is about 65…but we are going to win this year because we are training and we are strong.”
Somewhere, a voice in the room reminds her to mention the word brave and Gillibrand stomps her heeled foot and adds “and brave! Brave wins!”
It was a rare personal moment in Gillibrand’s appearance on a small stage with a white banner that had her last name in blue below “2020” in hot pink. There are signs around the room with her call to action: text BRAVE to 60980. It seems Kirsten Gillibrand had to be reminded of her own motto.
Minutes earlier outside the event, the line of people snaking outside the small room was noticeably older and noticeably New England in hiking boots and jeans and fleece vests. Inside, the crowd fit comfortably, with enough chairs that only the handful of reporters found ourselves standing in the back. In other words, the windows were not fogged.
The New Hampshire voter is unique in that they are afforded the opportunity to meet each of the candidates during the primary season because the Granite State votes early. On the weekend Gillibrand visited Concord, this town also saw Pete Buttigeig and Cory Booker. Rather than the typical stump speech common in the early stages of the primary, Gillibrand held a Town Hall and if her attendance wasn’t impressive, her grasp of her policies certainly was. While Beto O’Rourke’s campaign feels like a nomadic midlife crisis squared on the theory that he enjoys standing on things, Gillibrand fielded complex questions from these voters who know how to ask presidential candidates questions because they ask these questions every four years.
On paper, there is nothing wrong with Kirsten Gillibrand. But on paper Jeb Bush was better than Donald Trump.
Gillibrand does not talk like she is running in a primary election, she talks like she is running in a general election and Trump is a frequent villain. In the beginning of her remarks, she said “President Trump has created so much division and hate in this country, he has divided us on every religious line, every racial line, every socio-economic line. He has created a darkness and a fear across this country that I have never seen, and it’s made us smaller. He wants us to fear our neighbors.”
Moments later, in a sort of spoken-word-poetry metrotone, Gillibrand said “our president is a coward, our president is afraid, our president punches down and demeans the most vulnerable among us.” Her opening introduction also took note of her role as a strong woman—Gillibrand has run multiple marathons but she doesn’t mention that in her vote-for-me pitch. Instead, she says that she first won a red district in upstate New York, and that a strategist discouraged her from running by saying “there are more cows than Democrats in your district.” Gillibrand does not mention that she ran as a right-wing Democrat, opposing amnesty for immigrants and carrying an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association.
The room of New Hampshire voters doesn’t appear impressed by the senator who seemed so strong a few months ago. Her applause lines that should send the crowd into cheers land into either silence or polite applause more reminiscent of a golf course than a campaign appearance.
Outside, the crowd was supportive of Gillibrand, but they seemed mostly to be simply loyal Democrats, and they are sobered by the field and the state of the nation. Suzi, who drove here from nearby Franklin, New Hampshire, said that she still doesn’t think America is ready for a female president. She explained “when you look at the history of the country, we have a real problem with women being in charge.” She even sees that sexism in this race, saying “look at the dollar amounts for the women,” noting that the biggest fundraising numbers have largely come from men.
This is a campaign starving for oxygen, and nothing seems to be going right. After her event, Gillibrand spoke to a reporter in Mandarin, echoing the viral moments elsewhere in the field; Beto speaking Spanish and Buttigieg speaking Norwegian. But it barely spurred any chatter online. Her campaign has been running Facebook ads saying that she hasn’t even brought in the 65,000 donors that she needs to qualify for the Democratic debate. When Playboy asked her about this, she said “we’re working on it, but I’m very excited about our campaign and we’ll be releasing all our numbers shortly.” But campaigns generally don’t take too long to release fundraising numbers that look good for them.
On paper, there is nothing wrong with Kirsten Gillibrand. She has name recognition that was solidified after the president leveled a sexist attack against her on Twitter. She’s easy to like and at least sounds sincere. But on paper Jeb Bush was better than Donald Trump and that presents the problem most visible in the New Hampshire room—nobody is excited for Kirsten Gillibrand. And if nobody is excited to see a candidate, they certainly aren’t excited to vote for them.