The field of candidates mulling a primary run against Kirsten Gillibrand has thinned out in the past week, with representative Steve Israel and Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer pulling their names from contention. As it turns out, Chuck Schumer hasn’t been the only one watching over Gillibrand. President Obama, the big guy himself, had developed a keen interest in clearing the field for the vulnerable freshman senator, if only for reasons of cold political calculation: With the chance to flip Republican-held Senate seats in other areas of the country in 2010, Democrats don’t want to waste party resources on a bitter primary battle in New York. And so when Steve Israel announced a week ago that he wouldn’t run against Gillibrand, he credited an overture from Obama for his changing his mind. So what, exactly, happened? Did the affable prez turn on his famous, irresistible charm?
Not exactly. Instead, he turned loose his muscle, Rahm Emanuel, who did his own kind of persuasion:
Israel was given an ultimatum: if he proceeded with the Senate race, the White House would go to great pains to shut off every dollar in the state. With Schumer’s help, the administration would make sure all the big Democratic donors and institutional players kept their distance. They would show no restraint, even campaigning against him and raising money in Israel’s own home turf. Obama himself would come out to campaign in New York City, cutting off at the knees the downstate, Manhattan-focused appeal Israel would have needed to run to Gillibrand’s left. And perhaps most damning of all, given whom the math dictated Israel would have needed in his column, Emanuel indicated that the nation’s first black president was prepared to barnstorm through New York’s black neighborhoods hand-in-hand with the junior senator, employing his appeal to African-Americans to a political degree he usually avoids. Oh, and as for Israel having any role shaping policy in the House while all this was going on? Forget it.
On the other hand, if Israel drops out, he secures the undying friendship of some new powerful allies. Israel’s campaign briefly thought about going forward with running against Gillibrand anyway, but ultimately decided against it. It just didn’t make political sense, and besides, Israel owns a beautiful horse that he adores, and he didn’t want to wake up with its severed head in his bedsheets.