From classic lib to Blue Dog: Paterson picks Gillibrand

After all the talk of dynasties, David Paterson wound up going for substance over celebrity in his pick to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate.  Instead of Caroline Kennedy or Andrew Cuomo, the New York governor selected Representative Kirsten Gillibrand for the seat, and her celebrity quotient isn’t the only big difference between the two earlier frontrunners.  Gillibrand will fall firmly in the Blue Dog camp, moving the seat more to the Right:

Gov. David Paterson has picked Democratic U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to fill New York’s vacant U.S. Senate seat, an aide to the governor said early Friday, a day after Caroline Kennedy abruptly withdrew from consideration.

Gillibrand, a second-term lawmaker from upstate New York, will be named to fill the seat vacated when Hillary Rodham Clinton resigned to become secretary of state in the Obama administration, the aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity because an announcement hadn’t been made. An announcement was scheduled for later Friday. …

Others in the field, led by more senior politicians, including U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, criticized Gillibrand as recently as Thursday evening, saying her support of more conservative issues such as gun ownership rights was out of step with most New York Democrats.

But Gillibrand (JIL’-uh-brand) is a proven vote-getter in an eastern New York district that sprawls from the mid-Hudson Valley to north of Albany. She defeated a long-term Republican incumbent in 2006 and won re-election last year by a wide margin.

How conservative is this new Blue Dog?  Gillibrand has a membership in the NRA and she voted against the $700 billion bailout bill.  Some conservatives would argue that alone makes her a better choice than some Republicans for the new position.  Losing her voice in the House might sting just a little, but her district will likely replace her with a representative with similar views, and it represents a quantum leap forward for the Senate seat.

Conservatives lucked out with this surprise appointment.  Certainly Gillibrand will support much of the Democratic agenda, but she has the right instincts on fiscal and gun policy, and we assumed that we would get a carbon copy of Schumer all along.

Gillibrand’s selection comes as a surprise, though, for New York.  Both Kennedy and Cuomo represent the New Left in thinking, solidly of the same cast politically and close to New York’s other Senator, Chuck Schumer.  Why would Paterson select a Blue Dog?  Michael Gormley of the AP suggests that Paterson wants to improve his standing with upstate New York, and that he might have what became known as a “Utica problem” during Sweet Caroline’s disastrous bid for the seat.  He needed to be seen as someone who pays attention to voters outside the five boroughs of the Big Apple, and Gillibrand broadens his appeal in time for his 2010 run for governor on his own steam.

I’d expect Paterson to get a serious primary challenge after this appointment.  Democrats will come gunning for him from the Left, starting with Emily’s List.  Cuomo himself might look for some payback by running for his father’s old seat.

Update: Jazz Shaw believes that the state Democratic Party might fracture on the special election for the Senate seat in 2010 as well.  It could be a banner year for Republicans in New York.