On the eve of the first Democratic debates of the 2020 election season, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is polling somewhere in the neighborhood of zero to one percent in most national polls. She's quick to point out another candidate who was also counted out so early in the last election cycle:
Donald Trump.
Gillibrand was one of 21 Democratic candidates who made the sojourn to South Carolina over the weekend to break bread with Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) at his annual fish fry ー a tradition that took on new importance this year for its location in an early voting state as the 23 (strike that, 24) candidates running search for ways to break out of a crowded field.
Gillibrand spoke to Cheddar in South Carolina and enumerated several of her policy proposals that she hopes will energize the Democratic base, which include a multi-faceted approach to tackling the mounting student-debt crisis.
"It's just too expensive to get higher education," the senator said.
Unlike her Senate colleagues Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Gillibrand said her proposal is not to wipe out outstanding debt, but to automatically give borrowers a chance to refinance the entirety of their education debt at the lowest rate available. In addition, Gillibrand offers a plan that she calls an expansion of the post-WWII G.I. Bill. It would tie free state and community college to public service. If a high-school student committed to a year of public service, the government would offer two years of public school for free. If they committed to two years, they could get a full four-year public education on the government's dime.
On cannabis legalization, Gillibrand staked out the position that is now de rigueur among the field: decriminalized, legalized, and de-scheduled, with marijuana convictions absolved and investments made in opening the legalized cannabis market to entrepreneurs.
"We want to make sure that black and brown people and women have access to the industry of marijuana," she said. "We don't want it to become a Wall Street industry."
"We want the communities that were disproportionately harmed by the over-enforcement of marijuana criminal convictions on black or brown people," Gillibrand added. "It's something we must rectify."
The junior senator from New York, where the Big Apple is preparing to play host to World Pride next weekend, also said she "will be the most forward looking LGBTQ+ president ever," pointing to her support for the Equality Act, which adds "gender orientation" and "sexual identity" as protected classes under federal civil rights law. That bill is currently stalled in Congress.
Gillibrand said she would require the NIH to develop a generic version of PrEP ー the HIV pre-exposure medication ー though the maker of that drug, known as Truvada, says it will have a generic version on the market before the 2020 election even takes place.
Gillibrand will spend this week preparing for the first debate of the season ー she's on the dais for the Thursday night debate (the debate was split up over two nights because so many candidates couldn't fit on a single stage). From there, it's back on the road in an attempt to get those sagging poll numbers up.
"I'm going to go to every red place, every blue place, every purple place I can find," she said.
"I take on the battles that other people don't. It's the reason why I'm going to win."