Behind in polls, Democrat Gillibrand vows transparency at rally

Catherine TRIOMPHE
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US Senator Kristen Gillibrand of New York emphasized transparency as she kicked off her bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination

US Senator Kristen Gillibrand of New York emphasized transparency as she kicked off her bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination (AFP Photo/Johannes EISELE)

New York (AFP) - Branding US President Donald Trump "a coward" who is "tearing apart the moral fabric" of America, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on Sunday held her first rally for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination outside the Trump International Hotel in New York.

Gillibrand emphasized transparency as she presented herself as a candidate defined by the courage and integrity she claims Trump lacks.

"Look a this tower!" said Gillibrand, her hair blowing in the wind. "A shrine to greed, division and vanity... We are here to reject the politics of fear and hate."

Speaking to a few hundred supporters and curious onlookers, the 52-year-old -- who first revealed plans to run in January before launching her campaign last weekend -- insisted she was ready to take on lobbies whose "special interests... prevent us from seeing solutions."

Like most of her 15 or so Democratic rivals Gillibrand favors universal health coverage, a $15 an hour federal minimum wage and access to university for everyone. Also high on her list of priorities is climate change: an "existential threat."

But rhetoric aside, Gillibrand -- who is married to a venture capitalist -- is closer to the political center than her leftist competitors like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who are running on ideas like free university tuition.

So far, Gillibrand is trailing in the polls -- and had the misfortune of holding her first rally on the same day the president's 2016 presidential campaign was cleared of colluding with Russia, according to a released summary of Robert Mueller's probe into Moscow's election meddling.

- Can a woman win? -

Gillibrand, a mother to two boys, is a champion of causes that matter to women and families, from sexual harassment to paid maternity leave.

But polls show that the Democratic favorites at this stage are all men: Sanders, former vice president Joe Biden, and Texan Beto O'Rourke dominate the top tier.

Gillibrand's supporters are confident that she can she close the gap in the coming months.

"It's so early in the primary process... she has so much time to build and grow her coalition," said Zaheen Sarker, a 24-year-old finance worker.

Among possible obstacles: Gillibrand started her career aligned closely with conservatives on key hot-button issues, like opposing gun control and pushing for more deportations.

She has since changed her positions -- leading to charges of being a political contortionist.

But for Sarker, Gillibrand's "evolution on these policies shows that she is able to learn and change, which is so important in politics."

With only a few hundred people turning out Sunday on her home turf, it seems like she has a steep uphill battle ahead.

For some, the fact that she is a woman alone presents problems.

"I like Gillibrand, but I don't think she could defeat Trump," said Carol Mitchell, 75.

But she suggested Gillibrand could make a good runningmate for Joe Biden.

"After the Hillary experience, I am really worried about having a woman at the top of the ticket," Mitchell said.