ALBANY—Representative Kirsten Gillibrand’s name is persistently circulating–along with many others–as a possible replacement for Hillary Clinton in the Senate, but the idea may dissolve if Democrats think that would mean sacrificing a congressional seat.
Gillibrand’s district, the 20th, is spread across 10 upstate counties from Columbia to Essex and was represented by conservative Republicans from 1978–when Republican Gerald Solomon defeated Representative Ned Pattison, a Troy Democrat (the district no longer includes Troy)–until 2006.
Republicans still hold a 70,000 voter enrollment edge in the district and it was considered a safe seat until Gillibrand defeated scandal-damaged incumbent John Sweeney, a race was as much lost by Sweeney as won by Gillibrand.
She handily earned re-election this November over Republican Sandy Treadwell, who never mounted a significant challenge in the district for his “blue dog” opponent, who got an “A” rating from the N.R.A. this year.
Naturally, Republicans are eyeing the possibility of moving right back in if she leaves.
“If it’s an open seat, we will have a very strong position to fill,” said Jasper Nolan, longtime chairman of the Saratoga County Republican Party. “I think we just have to work that much harder, and maybe things will have changed a bit by then.”
Nolan said he had already been contacted by multiple people–he would not name names–who said they would be interested in the seat if it becomes available. If Gillibrand were to leave, the seat would be filled in a special election and candidates for each party would be chosen by an agreement of the involved county party chairs--in this case, ten of them.
The district is trending bluer, but the odds would still be against a non-incumbent Democrat.
“They’ll never win it back, even with the counties it comprises leaning more blue,” said Alan Chartock, a political science professor at SUNY Albany and radio host. “But we’re not talking about a House of Representatives that will be controlled by one vote anymore, so that dynamic is less important than it used to be.”