What Kirsten Gillibrand Is Missing: New York Endorsements for 2020

WASHINGTON — Senator Cory Booker has been endorsed for president by New Jersey’s entire 11-member Democratic congressional delegation, his state’s governor and its other senator. Senator Bernie Sanders has the backing of Vermont’s other senator and its lone House member. Senator Kamala Harris has support from three-quarters of the Democrats in the California State Senate, the governor and a handful of House members from her state.

Even John Delaney, the former Maryland congressman running a long-shot bid for president, has the support of a House member from his home state.

But Senator Kirsten Gillibrand? No one from New York’s 21-member congressional delegation is yet backing her bid for president. And neither is New York’s governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, or its other senator, Chuck Schumer, who as minority leader is staying neutral because numerous senators are in the race.

“Is there a question mark on the end of that?” Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, a Hudson Valley Democrat, said this week when told that none of his colleagues had yet endorsed Ms. Gillibrand. “She hasn’t spoken to me. And that’s the most honest thing I can tell you.”

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Home-state political insiders almost certainly will not prove decisive in a presidential primary race that begins in Iowa and New Hampshire. But Ms. Gillibrand’s missing support back home is revealing of both her New York relationships and how she has constructed her national profile, often by staying far from the state’s notoriously fractious and rough-and-tumble fray.

In interviews with two-thirds of New York’s Democratic congressional delegation, lawmakers this week offered a variety of rationales and dodges for why none of them has lined up behind their colleague.

“For me, it’s just too early,” Representative Eliot Engel said.

“The field is still developing,” Paul Tonko added.

“This race is so significant that I don’t see how you just do something because of home state,” Gregory Meeks said.

“I’m just watching. I’m listening. I’m listening,” Nydia Velazquez said as she stepped into a Capitol elevator. “I’ll take my time.”

Presidential candidates often roll out early endorsements as a show of strength. Rival campaigns, for instance, took note of Mr. Booker’s ability to unite the full spectrum of New Jersey Democratic leaders behind him shortly after he entered the race.

Mr. Sanders nailed down the early endorsement of his fellow Vermont senator, Patrick J. Leahy, who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016. Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota both have secured prominent home-state congressional backers.

It’s not that Ms. Gillibrand and her aides have not been trying. This week, she invited the full New York delegation to her Washington home next Wednesday for drinks. It’s just that no endorsements have materialized so far.

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“I haven’t made a decision about endorsements yet simply out of respect for all the other folks who have reached out to me,” said Representative Yvette Clarke of Brooklyn, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, who spent time with Ms. Gillibrand over the weekend.

Ms. Gillibrand’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Ms. Gillibrand is also technically still only “exploring” a White House bid, though she and her staff have begun telling potential endorsers that she will formally declare later this month.

“She hasn’t announced,” Representative Carolyn Maloney said. “I’m sure a lot of people will endorse her if and when she announces.”

One complicating factor for Ms. Gillibrand is that she may not be the only New York Democrat to run in 2020. While the former New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took himself out of the running this week, the current mayor, Bill de Blasio, is headed to South Carolina this weekend as he teases the possibility of a campaign. (Mr. de Blasio has drawn even less home-state support; all the recent Democratic candidates in a citywide special election debate said he should not run in 2020.)

Mr. Cuomo has said that he is not running for president and that former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. would be the party’s strongest choice — a notable snub to Ms. Gillibrand, who once worked for him at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But if Mr. Biden opts out, Mr. Cuomo has left open the faintest possibility that he would run after all. That has not gone unnoticed by other New York lawmakers familiar with the governor’s long memory and his demands of fealty.

“Andrew Cuomo may be a candidate,” Representative Brian Higgins volunteered of the evolving field.

Ms. Gillibrand joined the Senate in 2009, a surprise pick to replace Mrs. Clinton by the governor at the time, David Paterson. Her line-skipping appointment was not necessarily welcomed by a delegation filled with ambitious lawmakers who coveted that seat for themselves.

In her decade in the Senate, Ms. Gillibrand has often sidestepped the internecine blood feuds that so often define Democratic politics in New York, whether it’s the yearslong saga between Mr. Cuomo and Mr. de Blasio or the open attorney general’s race last year where she declined to make an endorsement.

That more risk-averse approach has earned her few enemies and widespread support among the electorate — she won the most votes of any Democrat on the ballot in 2018 by a wide margin — but it has also deprived her of the kind of deep loyalty inspired by other politicians.

In interviews, lawmakers and others hailed Ms. Gillibrand’s work ethic and intellect. She is respected. But she is neither feared nor beloved.

“She certainly hasn’t prioritized trying to become a power broker within New York State,” said Peter Kauffmann, a Democratic strategist in New York and former press secretary for Mrs. Clinton when she served as senator. “The folks that are familiar with her tend to see her on cable news fighting for progressive issues. She doesn’t do a lot of the work at home that extends your influence in the state.”

In 2018, a New York-based political magazine, City and State, published a ranking of the city’s most powerful people in politics. Ms. Gillibrand ranked 16th, one spot behind Mr. de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray. (The top four were, in order, President Trump, Mr. Cuomo, Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Schumer.)

Representative Nita M. Lowey hailed Ms. Gillibrand as a friend and close colleague for years. But she, too, is staying on the sideline.

“Frankly I’m not endorsing anybody,” Ms. Lowey said. “It’s a huge field and I just want to win this White House so badly.”

Mr. Engel, the representative, said he did not think anyone had rejected Ms. Gillibrand out of hand. “I know I certainly haven’t,’’ he said. “I’m just doing other things and want to wait a few months.”

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