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President Trump's tweet: a gift to N.Y. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

WASHINGTON — Perhaps President Trump thought he was giving Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand a lump of coal for Christmas when he took to Twitter to say she would "do anything" for campaign contributions.

But in reality, he gave the New York Democrat and possible future presidential candidate a gift that will keep on giving: a boost in public exposure that's likely to elevate Gillbrand's status among voters nationwide.

That's the conclusion political prognosticators and pros reached Wednesday, a day after the online spat between the nation's tweeter-in-chief and New York's junior senator.

"This exchange is likely to be pure political profit for Sen. Gillibrand," said Jacob Neiheisel, an assistant professor of political science at the University at Buffalo.

Appearing on Fox Business News, Rep. Pete King, a Long Island Republican, agreed that Trump only helped a Democratic rival.

"He's the president of the United States, and he's just giving more credence and credibility to people like Senator Gillibrand," King said.

Trump's tweet took root in Gillibrand's appearance on CNN Monday, when she said the president should resign because more than a dozen women accused him of inappropriate sexual advances in years past.

Characteristically, Trump took to Twitter Tuesday to tear into Gillibrand.

"Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for (Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office 'begging' for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump," the president's tweet said.

Many saw that tweet as an innuendo on the part of the president that Gillibrand was willing to perform sexual favors for campaign cash.

Gillibrand hit back hard — on Twitter, at a news conference and on NBC's "Today" show on Wednesday. There, Gillibrand said she, too, read Trump's tweet as an insulting sexual innuendo.

“The president says whatever he wants, whenever he wants. I don’t think that level of discourse, however, is what this country wants,” Gillibrand said. “I think what he has done is unacceptable. And if you put that in the context of multiple accusers who have accused him of sexual assault and sexual harassment that are credible, you need accountability. And I think what people do want is accountability and he should resign.”

If Wednesday was a typical day, 4 million or so Americans saw Gillibrand on the "Today" show Wednesday. Millions more saw cable or network news reports on her dust-up with Trump.

Pollsters said that exposure alone boost's Gillibrand's standing nationwide.

Gillibrand garnered a mere 3 percent in a September poll of possible Democratic presidential contenders, but that figure would likely be higher now, said Jonathan Zogby, CEO of Zogby Analytics, the Utica polling firm that conducted that national survey.

"I don't know if would skyrocket, but it would definitely go up," Zogby said.

A University of New Hampshire poll conducted in October put Gillibrand at only 1 percent in that first-in-the-nation primary state. But Andrew E. Smith, director of the university's Survey Center, said Gillibrand's higher profile in the wake of the Trump tweet likely helps her.

"Within activist circles in the Democratic Party, her support is likely to go up quite a bit, particularly among women," Smith said.

Gillibrand, who is up for a second full term in the Senate in 2018, said in February that she didn't plan to run for president in 2020.

“I’m focused entirely on running for Senate, so yes, I’m ruling it out,” Gillibrand said in Fort Drum, N.Y., according to NYStateofPolitics.com.

But that hasn't stopped growing speculation among pollsters and among Democrats who know her that Gillibrand may eventually change her mind and run for president.

That's partly because after five years of leading the congressional fight against sexual harassment, Gillibrand finally finds American society paying as much attention to the issue as she has.

"Kirsten Gillibrand's moment has arrived," a Politico magazine headline said last week.

Of course, if Gillibrand were to run, she would face numerous obstacles. More than a dozen other Democrats are looking at the race, and some of them appear to have friendlier relations with the Democratic powerhouses known as former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary Clinton, the failed 2016 Democratic presidential nominee.

Gillibrand appeared to cast a chill on her relationship with the Clintons when she said last month that Bill Clinton should have resigned the presidency in light of his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky.

A longtime Hillary Clinton aide, Philippe Reines, tweeted a lacerating response to Gillibrand, saying: “Over 20 yrs you took the Clintons’ endorsements, money, and seat. Hypocrite. Interesting strategy for 2020 primaries. Best of luck.”

Gillibrand dismissed Reines' comments as "ridiculous," telling MSNBC: "Bill Clinton did very important things for this country, but my point is about this conversation that we're having today. We need to have (the) highest standards for elected leaders, and we have to change what's happening throughout society and we have to allow people to tell their stories."

Kirsten Gillibrand calls on Donald Trump to resign over alleged sex misconduct

That's consistent with what Gillibrand has been saying for years about sexual harassment in the military and on college campuses, and she maintained that consistency earlier this month when she called on a friend, Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, to resign in light of the accusations of sexual misbehavior that he faces.

And all that consistency will benefit Gillibrand's national standing with women voters, said Kelly Dittmar, a political scientist at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

"Her credibility is also heightened when you have evidence of her being attacked on gender lines" as Trump did, Dittmar said.

Ironically, Gillibrand's $8.7 million campaign war chest — which she frequently uses to boost other women Democratic candidates — may benefit from her fight with Trump, too.

A day after Trump said she would "do anything" for campaign cash, her Senate campaign placed an ad on Facebook.

"We need to raise $10,000 by midnight to show that we're not backing down," Gillibrand said in the ad. "Will you pitch in $15 to stand up to Trump's bullying?"

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