Kirsten Gillibrand, the junior senator from New York, had a great night Tuesday — in Texas.
The Democrat went out on a limb in a state far from home — she endorsed or contributed to seven female candidates in contested congressional primaries from El Paso to Houston — and came out with an unblemished record.
Two of the women Gillibrand endorsed, Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia, won their primaries outright and are poised to become the state’s first Latina representatives in Congress in their heavily Democratic districts.
The other five — Lillian Salerno, M.J .Hegar, Gina Ortiz Jones, Laura Moser and Elizabeth Fletcher — all advanced to May runoff elections by finishing either first or second in their primaries.
In the Houston-based 29th District where Gillibrand endorsed Garcia, the senator was on the other side of a primary split with senior New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who backed Tahir Javed, a healthcare executive and major Democratic donor. Garcia won the race handily — taking more than 63 percent of the vote to Javed’s roughly 20 percent.
By endorsing a slate of Texas candidates who made it out of crowded primary fields, Gillibrand’s Off The Sidelines PAC — which has backed more than 50 female candidates across the nation this year — continued to burnish the senator’s national profile and establish her as a budding queenmaker beyond New York’s borders.
“Among Democrats, this is definitely the year of the woman. So it makes good sense that Gillibrand backed women who prevailed on Tuesday in Texas,” pollster Doug Schoen told POLITICO.
Gillibrand didn’t actually campaign in Texas with the candidates, so her visibility there was limited — “There are probably fewer than 50 primary voters in Texas who knows who she is,” Schoen said.
But her involvement generated goodwill with key Democratic interest groups and constituencies that could prove helpful down the road. Even if the candidates she backed lose their runoff races in May, Gillibrand has curried favor with prominent Latina candidates who are expected to make history in November. The goodwill could come in handy two years down the road, said Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf.
“When you want to run for president, you need lots of friends,” Sheinkopf told POLITICO. “You don’t need them in your home state, you need them in other states. Her job, if she wants to become president, is to keep picking up friends in states where there are high delegate numbers.”
In Texas’s suburban Houston-based 7th District, Gillibrand played both sides — she donated $2,500 to establishment and EMILY’s List-backed candidate Elizabeth Fletcher, but publicly endorsed Laura Moser, a freelance journalist who became a progressive martyr after being targeted by an opposition research attack orchestrated by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The DCCC gambit against Moser backfired — she garnered enough votes on Tuesday to make it to the May runoff, where she’ll face off against Fletcher.
“She’s running a perfect presidential campaign,” said Sheinkopf.
The Texas primary comes two weeks before another high-profile election where Gillibrand’s clout as a powerbroker in congressional contests will be put to the test — the Illinois primary.
Gillibrand was an early and outspoken backer of progressive Democratic candidate Marie Newman, who has launched a closely-watched challenge to veteran incumbent Rep. Dan Lipinski, a Blue Dog Democrat. While the Illinois political establishment has thrown its support behind Lipinski in the Chicago-based district, Gillibrand has lined up behind Newman along with several other progressive members of Congress and national groups. Gillibrand even headlined a Chicago fundraiser for Newman last month.
That contest isn’t the only one where Gillibrand has skin in the game — there are four other Illinois Democratic primaries where she’s backing a candidate.
“Do these primaries indicate that the Democrats can take back the House? Probably not,” Sheinkopf said. “Nationally is there a trend toward Democrats? Yes. Does this give Gillibrand more