The Atlantic

This Isn’t Going According to Plan for Kirsten Gillibrand

The senator from New York is a battle-tested campaigner who thrives as the underdog. But 2020 is proving to be a much tougher challenge than she thought.
Source: Charlie Neibergall / AP

DES MOINES—Isaac Rosenberg is stumped. What is it about Kirsten Gillibrand that makes people love to hate her, the rush of coverage eager to point out how her presidential campaign has underperformed?

Maybe, Rosenberg says, “it’s because America isn’t used to such an opinionated and strong woman.”

Rosenberg doesn’t get it. They hit it off. Rosenberg likes her style—in politics, and in fashion. They’d just done their makeup together upstairs. “I like a full, pink lip; she likes a red lip,” Rosenberg tells me.

We were standing in Blazing Saddle, a gay bar in the East Village neighborhood here. Rosenberg had on a white top exposing a bare midriff, and a flowing white skirt that people in the crowd had to be careful not to step on. Rosenberg is better known as the drag queen Vana, and is one of the senator’s biggest fans in Iowa.

Or, at least at this point, one of her very few big fans in Iowa.

This isn’t going well for Gillibrand. She has failed at some basics. For someone who’s always been a voracious fundraiser, she raised just $3 million in the first quarter of the year, less than half of what South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg raised. And she was weeks behind the self-help author Marianne Williamson and the automation alarmist Andrew Yang in getting the 65,000 donors needed to guarantee her a spot on the Democratic debate stage later this month. (Her campaign announced she finally passed that mark last weekend.)

Gillibrand is a United States senator from New York, and this is the best she can do. A

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