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A New York Battle

This is going to be fun. The “this” is the New York Democratic Senate primary, which is going to make up for that Rudy Giuliani vs. Hillary Clinton matchup that political fans were deprived of when Giuliani decided not to make a Senate run in 2000. A sample:

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is finally heeding New York Democrats’ advice that she get tough with Harold Ford Jr. — slamming the former Memphis congressman as an anti-gay-rights, anti-abortion, anti-immigrant tool of Wall Street money lords. The problem for Gillibrand: Ford is embracing New York’s slappy-face politics faster than she can generate the comebacks. On Monday, Ford dismissed Gillibrand as a party-controlled “parakeet.” For good measure, his spokesman told POLITICO that Gillibrand is a “desperate liar.”

Yowser. And it’s only January.

Now Gillibrand has some problems. She’s an incumbent when incumbents are out of favor. She hasn’t done anything memorable. And to a degree, Ford is right: she morphed from a moderate, somewhat independent-minded congresswoman into a loyal cog in the Reid-Pelosi-Obama machine, never raising a  fuss about the KSM trial or objecting to the ObamaCare deals that would have cost her state billions had we not been saved by the Massachusetts voters. (“The 39-year-old Ford, who relocated to New York after losing a 2006 Senate race in Tennessee, has repeatedly lampooned Gillibrand as being protected by her ‘party bosses,’ an argument that Ford advisers believe resonates with nationwide anti-Washington sentiment.”) Her gibes about Ford’s expedient transformation on hot-button issues ring a bit hollow given her conversion on Second Amendment rights (she became enamored of gun regulation only after her appointment to the Senate). You can see why Ford might think he’s got a real chance.

But Ford is not without his problems. The liberal-Democratic establishment has decided he’s too moderate and untrustworthy. For example, he eschews business-bashing at a time when that is de rigueur for Democrats.

The Republicans have yet to come up with a top-tier candidate, despite the giddy optimism circulating in Republican circles post–Scott Brown. But before we get to the general election, there should be plenty to watch and enjoy for those who love a good show. In some ways, it’s an interesting test for Democrats, just as the Florida Senate primary race is for Republicans. (Marco Rubio has come from far back to now lead the establishment favorite Crist in the latest poll.) No, neither is evidence of a “civil war” within the respective party. Rather, both will convey some key political information: whether the association with Beltway-establishment types is the kiss of death and whether a skilled challenger without that taint (Ford in New York and Rubio in Florida) can overcome the money and name recognition that also come with it.


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