Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has hired two senior communications aides for an expected presidential campaign, a sign that she is all but certain to join the race against President Trump and that her entry may be imminent.
Gillibrand has recruited Meredith Kelly, formerly the top spokeswoman at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, to serve as communications director for her prospective 2020 campaign, two people familiar with the decision said. Kelly was part of the team at the House committee that helped the party capture the majority in 2018, overseeing the group’s media strategy during the midterm elections.
Emmy Bengston, the former digital director for Governor Gavin Newsom of California in his 2018 race, has signed on as Kelly’s deputy. Bengston, who also worked on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016, will lead Gillibrand’s digital operation.
The hires are part of a flurry of activity by Gillibrand in recent weeks as the 2020 campaign gets underway. Politico reported Thursday night that she is preparing a trip to Iowa later this month and has been in touch with potential campaign staff members there.
Glen Caplin, a spokesman for Gillibrand, declined to comment.
Taking the step of actually retaining new staff — rather than merely conducting interviews or planning out staff recruitment — indicates that Gillibrand is probably in the very last stages of preparing for the 2020 race. Once politicians raise or spend more than $5,000 on their candidacy, they have just 15 days to file paperwork forming a campaign with the Federal Election Commission.
Depending on when she announces her decision, Gillibrand, 52, could become the second high-profile Democrat to join the race, after Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Gillibrand has signaled that she will run as a progressive and has been an especially forceful advocate within the party on matters of gender equality.
At least two other senators, Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, are expected to announce in the coming weeks, joining a field that could grow to dozens. Joe Biden, the former vice president, has also told associates he intends to make a decision this month and has been leaning toward running.
While she has a high profile in the news media, Gillibrand is not well known among Democratic voters nationally. In a Quinnipiac University poll last month, 64 percent of Democrats said they did not yet know enough about her to form an opinion.
As a senator, Gillibrand has relied on a tightly knit team of advisers who have counseled her for years, helping her navigate her appointment to the Senate in 2009, a special election to defend the seat in 2010 and a regularly scheduled Senate election in 2012. But she has been moving aggressively to add to her staff and compete with other Democratic contenders for prized talent in the party.
Gillibrand’s expanded communications operation arose from that process. Before joining the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Kelly worked as a spokeswoman for Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the current Senate minority leader. And Bengston worked on digital communications for Planned Parenthood and President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012.