Where money makes a difference for Gillibrand is in messaging, especially regarding her vote against extending the Bush-era tax cuts. The Republican argument is that Gillibrand voted to raise taxes on the middle class by making an ideologically-driven statement putting her to left of even a majority of her party. Democrats, including Gillibrand, counter that she was really voting against extending tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires and the package could have been better negotiated.
While both arguments will inevitably be used on the campaign trail, the electoral punch will come with whoever defines her vote most effectively. The advantage nearly 22 months before the election goes to Gillibrand. She has no announced opponent while running for a high-profile seat in a state that will undoubtedly be flooded with tens of millions of dollars from donors attempting to sway the outcome.
That's why Republicans like former state party executive director Ryan Moses are stressing that any candidate running against Gillibrand has to enter the race immediately.
Moses said that the GOP needs "somebody that's going to have to start now," adding that such a person will need to already have money or the ability to raise a considerable amount of cash quickly. He also argued that a fiscal conservative who is socially moderate is more electable statewide than the top of the GOP ticket of 2010 - Tea Party backed gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino.
"I think the [state] party was very disorganized," said Moses of 2010. "I think she's had some good bounces coming her way and, in a basketball way, she made some good shots."
He later added, "I'm not a defeatist but 2010 was a good opportunity for us to run a serious, credible campaign against her."
The nomination DioGuardi in the Senate race and Paladino in the governor's race proved that the statewide GOP electorate is not particularly interested in nominating social moderates when they have more conservative challengers, regardless of electability. According to Moses, that keeps potentially successful candidates in the mold of former Gov. George Pataki (R) or former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) from gaining the party nomination.
"Look at the people who have been successful," he said. "Without [the] Pataki, Giuliani type who has that crossover appeal, it's tough. You can run the strict Republican conservative race and get 40 percent. But that's not a winner."
According to the current state GOP executive director Tom Basile, "You need somebody that can generate excitement among a broad coalition of voters." That would come in handy in 2012 with Pres. Obama leading the Democratic ticket in 2012.
Basile added that New Yorkers are often ticket-splitters and that 2010 proved to be no exception as Republicans picked up six U.S. House seats while Democrats swept all five statewide races. He also mentioned that, in 1992, former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R) won re-election in the same year that Bill Clinton easily carried the Empire State.
The catch for Republicans is that Gillibrand essentially starts the cycle off with a head start in fundraising and is gaining name recognition daily while potential Republican candidates know that Democratic turnout will be high in the populous Democratic strongholds down state.
"She's been very successful at raising money," said Moses. "In light of her good victories and some other stuff, she's only going to get better [for her] at it as her profile grows."