Kirsten Gillibrand Kicks Off Her Campaign and Plans L.A. Visit Next Week

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Stephen Voss for Variety

WASHINGTON — Fresh off announcing on “Late Show With Stephen Colbert” that she is entering the 2020 presidential race, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has been taking the traditional next step in the process: Contacting potential donors.

Sources said Gillibrand is planning a visit to Los Angeles on Jan. 22, next Tuesday, to meet with potential supporters, tapping into the large base of entertainment industry bundlers and donors. Some of the potential bundlers are reluctant to go public at this point, as they fear committing to a candidate until the 2020 field shapes up — and perhaps until it shakes out.

Gillibrand followed up her visit on “Late Show With Stephen Colbert” on Tuesday with an announcement in Troy, N.Y., where her presidential campaign will be based.

She’s been sounding themes of health care, education, and jobs in her initial appearances, but she’s also known as one of the most visible Capitol Hill lawmakers in speaking out on sexual harassment and sexual assault. Some headlines dubbed her the #MeToo senator late in 2017, as the issue became part of a cultural movement following the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal. As the scandal unfolded, she donated almost $12,000 in his contributions to her past campaigns to an anti-sexual violence organization.

She was the first Senate Democrat to call on Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to resign as he faced allegations of groping women and other inappropriate behavior. That helped start a cascade of fellow senators who called for him to step down, something that he did in December, 2017. Some Democratic donors were upset over the chain of events, and said the party should have waited for the results of an ethics investigation.

At her announcement on Wednesday, she defended her decision to call for Franken’s resignation while acknowledging reports of a potential donor backlash.

“I will stand up for what I believe in, especially when it is hard, and with Senator Franken, it is sad for many people,” she told reporters. “But after the allegations of sexual harassment and groping, credible allegations at the time, I just couldn’t stay silent. Our job is not to stay silent. I couldn’t defend it. I had to do what was right. If some wealthy individuals, if that makes them angry, that’s on them.”

Gillibrand was among the top ten recipients of showbiz money in the most recent cycle, drawing contributions from such industry figures as producer Marcy Carsey, Universal’s Jeff Shell, David Geffen, Bryan Lourd, and Barbra Streisand. Although she received those contributions in 2017, before the Franken resignation, she continued to raise money from such prominent industry figures as producer Nina Tassler, writer Elizabeth Meriwether, Connie Britton, and Debra Messing.

Gillibrand and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have each announced the formation of presidential exploratory committees, while former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and former Representative John Delaney have officially launched presidential bids. The field is expected to grow in the coming weeks, as Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) are among a long list of candidates considering entering the race.