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Commentary: Kirsten Gillibrand is a star

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  • Paul Begala: Kirsten Gillibrand is a Democratic star in Republican upstate area
  • Upstate residents say Gillibrand shares their values, protects region, Begala says
  • Begala: Gillibrand is part of the next generation of women political comers
  • He says he thinks we'll see a woman president sooner than many suspect
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By Paul Begala
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House.

Paul Begala says Kirsten Gillibrand is a skillful politician and part of a new generation of rising women leaders.

Paul Begala says Kirsten Gillibrand is a skillful politician and part of a new generation of rising women leaders.

(CNN) -- The big news in New York politics is not that Caroline Kennedy, a deeply private person, preferred to be in private life.

Rather, the big news -- and for Democrats, the good news -- is that Gov. David Paterson has put another crack in the glass ceiling by appointing Kirsten Gillibrand to the Senate.

Gillibrand has it all. She moves with equal ease among Manhattan high-rollers and Delaware County dairymen.

She knocked off an entrenched Republican congressman in a conservative district. When she began, no one but she and then-Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Rahm Emanuel thought she could win.

When he was recruiting her for the congressional race, Emanuel told me Gillibrand was someone special. I paid attention because I recalled the time, a decade or so ago, when Emanuel told me a skinny state senator named Barack Obama was the future of the Democratic Party.

Since then I've seen Gillibrand in action. My father has a small farm in her district, near the village of Andes, New York. Every summer I bring my boys to Andes to fish in a pristine mountain trout pond, and at night we feast on fresh-caught fish with my dad's neighbors.

Those farmers and schoolteachers see Gillibrand as one of their own; someone who shares their values, who respects and protects the rugged beauty of their mountains even as she fights to bring jobs to the region.

In short, Gillibrand is the kind of Democrat who can win in blood-red upstate New York. Her membership on both the Agriculture Committee and the Armed Services Committee has allowed her to become an expert in policy areas some Democrats shy away from.

I've also seen Gillibrand in the big city. Gov. David Paterson spoke at a Gillibrand fundraiser I attended in a posh penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park. Gillibrand had given birth to her son Henry a few weeks before. Where she got the energy and the enthusiasm I'll never know. Even veteran Manhattanites came away impressed.

Listening to Gillibrand speak of how Hillary Clinton inspired her, I couldn't help but see parallels to Barack Obama. Our new president has described himself as part of the Joshua Generation -- the African American leaders who have come after pioneers like John Lewis, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Perhaps Kirsten Gillibrand is part of the Joshua Generation of women leaders, inspired by Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and so many others who blazed the trail Gillibrand is now following.

Watching the jubilation of the Obama inauguration, some feminist friends worried aloud when a woman might break through the way President Obama has. "I'm still not able to tell my daughter that she can be president," one friend said.

My own strong belief is we will see a woman president sooner than most suspect. And perhaps she will come from the ranks of the female Joshua Generation.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul Begala.

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