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TRANSCRIPT: SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND ADDRESSES HAROLD FORD JR.'S DECISION NOT TO CHALLENGE HER ON MSNBC'S 'ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS'

MSNBC anchor Andrea Mitchell spoke with New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today on former Congressman Harold Ford Jr.'s decision not to run for New York Senate. Gillibrand addressed Ford's comments earlier today that he 'could have won a primary.'

The full transcript is below. If used, please credit MSNBC's 'Andrea Mitchell Reports.'

TRANSCRIPT:

Andrea Mitchell interviews Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

March 2, 2010

[13:47:48]

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Former Congressman Harold Ford Jr. says that he is not going to challenge Kirsten Gillibrand for her New York Senate seat. But while saying he's doing it for the, quote, "good of the party," in a "New York Times" op-ed and on "Morning Joe" today, Ford did not do the senator any favors.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAROLD FORD, JR., CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP COUNCIL: I say to Senator Gillibrand, I say to Senator Schumer, I say to Senator Reid and the leadership and the Senate, if you can't hold Massachusetts, New York, I promise you, voters across this state, from upstate to downstate -- I spent seven weeks traveling and listening and learning and I can assure you that voters do not know the junior senator, they can't name a single positive outcome from her, which means one simple thing, she will be labeled for the failures of Washington, the failures of Albany.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MITCHELL: New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand joins us now.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

Harold Ford, first of all, he refers to you as "the junior senator." While that's technically accurate, he seems to be putting you down a little bit and saying that nobody know who is you are and what you've done for New York State. He says he's doing this for the good of the party, not running, but he's certainly putting a very heavy burden on you.

Your response?

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: Well, you know, every candidate makes their own decision about whether to run or not. Harold made his decision.

But I've been traveling around the state, I've been to every one of the 62 counties, I've spent time in every region of the state and I know New Yorkers. And the bottom line is I'm fighting for the issues that they care most about, and I'm going to run a very tough campaign on the issues that they care about. I'm making sure we create jobs, I'm making sure we fight for women's rights and gay rights and equal justice and civil liberties, and that's what I've been doing.

MITCHELL: Have you ever been to Staten Island?

GILLIBRAND: Yes, I have.

MITCHELL: By helicopter?

GILLIBRAND: No, by car.

(LAUGHTER)

MITCHELL: I'm referring, of course, to a very damaging "New York Times" profile on Harold Ford Jr. where he acknowledged having gone to Staten Island on a tour by helicopter and had some other -- other experiences that perhaps didn't fit with mainstream New Yorkers.

Do you think that that had more to do with his decision not to run, some of the problems he's encountered along the way, or do you think that he really is doing this, as he says, for the good of the party?

GILLIBRAND: Well, only Harold Ford knows why he is not running, but I don't think there was a path for victory there for him. You know, I have been running a very vigorous campaign. I have been working very hard on behalf of New Yorkers. And we had a very different record and a very different vision for the state, and who we fight for was quite different.

And so I think at the end of the day, he may well have underestimated me, but you know, for my part I'm just focused on being the best senator I could be and being a voice for New York.

MITCHELL: To his criticisms, the Marist Poll suggests that your job approval and recognition ratings still need a lot of work. Those who say that you have done an excellent job, a good job, 25 percent; a fair job, 38 percent; never heard of you, 22 percent. That's a tough climb.

GILLIBRAND: Well, you know, our state is blessed with almost 20 million people. So I haven't met all of them yet, but I will, Andrea. I have about nine months to go and I'm going to run the toughest campaign and I'm going to be in every community.

And I know New York. I grew up in New York. I grew up in upstate New York. I worked in New York City as a lawyer for almost 15 years. I know New Yorkers. I know what their issues are, I know what they care about. They want people who will fight for them. They want someone who will put their values and their priorities first. And that's what I have been doing for over a year now and that's what I'm going to continue to do.

And when it comes to campaign time, they will know all they want to know about me because I will have communicated with them directly one-on-one and through the rest of the campaign.

MITCHELL: Senator, to his criticisms in "The New York Times" today, in his op-ed, he writes, there are compelling reasons for me to run. I believe New Yorkers are hungry for a new direction in government. Our elected officials have spent too much time in this past year supporting a national partisan political agenda and not enough time looking out for their own constituents. And his point is that Senator Reid, the majority leader, and Senator Schumer, your partner there in New York who sponsored you for the nomination, that, in fact, they forced him out of this.

Do you have the -- the party powerbrokers behind you and not the people?

GILLIBRAND: I don't think that's true. I think that is a very misplaced allegation.

At the end of the day, you know, I have been working for a year now to the earn support from all New Yorkers and traveling to all the counties, meeting with leaders, advocacy groups. And all elected leaders, all advocacy groups will make their own decisions who they think is best for New York.

And as a consequence, because of the hard work and because of the record that I've developed, I have been endorsed by all the gay rights groups, all the women's rights groups, the environmental groups, advocates for civil liberties and elected leaders across the state. They have stated their preference. President Obama said that he supports me because he thinks I'm a strong leader.

That's what elected officials do. That's what community leaders do. That's what New York voter does. And I have been trying to earn that support for well over a year now. And, you know, he may well be disappointed people have chosen me over him, that's the reality of trying to earn support of 20 million people.

MITCHELL: Now one of the questions is, what will the democratic nomination be worth because you may end up facing a billionaire candidate in Mort Zuckerman. There is a report the billionaire investor and real estate magnate and media owner, owner of the "New York Daily News" among other journals, is actively considering a republican/independent run. That would put you really pretty much under fire.

GILLIBRAND: Well, Andrea, you might not know this about me, but I ran two of the toughest races in the country the last two election cycles. In fact, they were two of the most expensive races in the country and they were two of the most hardest fought races in the country. So whether or not --

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL: But you run up against a billionaire who can spend his own money --

GILLIBRAND: Right.

MITCHELL: -- and you've done a good job on fundraising.

GILLIBRAND: Well, my -- you know, my last race -- but, Andrea, my last race I was outspent. I was outspent my first race, I was outspent my second race, but I was not outworked.

MITCHELL: I don't want to ask you about the details of the scandals involving the governor, but what about the overriding feeling among New York voters that Albany is doing nothing, the governor is under fire, the previous governor was forced out? Politicians have a very bad reputation, which, again, does make it harder for an incumbent like yourself to run.

GILLIBRAND: Well, people are worried, Andrea. I mean, as I said, I have traveled our state, I have been in every community, and people are very worried. There's enormous financial distress. People are worried about losing a job, they are worried about finding a job. They are worried about how will I provide for my kids. You know, statistics just came out that health care costs all across New York have gone up this month alone by over 12 percent.

And so, families are suffering. And so, this disillusionment with government, the disillusionment with leaders, is not surprising. You know, I think if you look at the -- if you look at the Massachusetts race, many people said, I want to send a message. I want to send a message that we need more.

MITCHELL: Given -- given that move -- well, given that move to send a message, would you be better off if Governor Paterson were to step down and remove himself as an issue, especially since he is a fellow democrat and did end up appointing you?

GILLIBRAND: I don't think that's relevant to my race. I think that at the end of the day, voters are very smart. They assess each candidate based on what they have done, what they believe in, who they are fighting for, and what they are going do, what's their vision for the state.

The governor and New York, those are extremely serious issues. Domestic violence, abuse of power have no place in our government, they have no place in our society and there is an ongoing investigation that Attorney General Cuomo is conducting right now that will release the facts. But the allegations are very serious.

MITCHELL: Thank you so much, Senator Gillibrand. And it's good to have a chance to talk to you and for you to state your peace on all of this. Thank you very much.

GILLIBRAND: Thank you, Andrea. Thank you so much. Take care.

MITCHELL: Good to see you.