By BRIAN TUMULTY
Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand isn't taking a vacation after winning a lopsided re-election victory Tuesday in which she outperformed President Barack Obama in the state.
"Maybe next summer,'' she said during an interview Thursday.
Gillibrand's immediate focus is helping find temporary housing for New Yorkers who are still without power in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and now face freezing temperatures.
"I've got to tell you, it's crippling out there,'' Gillibrand said. "There's so much misery, so much devastation. You know people have lost their lives, they have lost their homes, they have lost their businesses. It's going to take months and months of concerted effort.''
Hurricane Sandy will dominate her agenda.
"I will be entirely focused on disaster relief for the next month or two,'' she said. "And then, hopefully we can begin a conversation about what would help the economy get revitalized.''
Gillibrand took 72 percent of the vote in beating back a challenge from Republican attorney Wendy Long. That topped the 60 percent Obama received in New York.
In response to the hurricane, Gillibrand canceled two days of upstate campaigning before the Nov. 6 election. She's made repeated visits to damaged areas in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County.
When Staten Island residents told her after the storm that the Red Cross still hadn't arrived, Gillibrand made a call. Ten trucks with relief supplies were soon on the way, according to her spokesman, Glen Caplin.
In her victory speech Tuesday night, Gillibrand discussed the urgent needs of downstate residents and how Sandy has brought out the best in New Yorkers.
"We bend, but we do not break,'' she said. "When we get knocked down, we get right back up again. We saw this after 9/11. We saw it again in upstate after the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.''
Gillibrand, although usually not a rousing speaker, does convey compassion effectively. And she often reminds audiences that she's the mother of two young boys.
Her victory speech didn't mention her 45-percentage-point victory margin over Long, but Gillibrand did note that her younger son, Henry, was asleep.
At 45, Gillibrand is one of the youngest senators. She also is one of the chamber's most junior members after only four years there.
Gillibrand said she's happy with her current committee assignments on Agriculture, Armed Services and Environment and Public Works.
Tuesday's election gave her a full six-year Senate term, which means the 2014 and 2016 elections will be a welcome break for her. Gillibrand has spent the last four election cycles running for Congress - the first two running in New York's 20th Congressional District and the last two running Senate campaigns. Her 2010 race was for the two years remaining in Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate term.
On Thursday, she attributed her decisive election win to the significant policy differences separating her and Long.
Long was the favorite of the Conservative Party. That helped her win a three-way Republican primary in June, but her conservative views on social issues and her tea-party-aligned positions on federal spending and taxes didn't have broad appeal among New York voters.
Her campaign received less than $1 million compared to the more than $15.4 million that Gillibrand raised. Gillibrand also hosted fundraisers in New York City for more than a dozen Democratic women candidates from as far away as Hawaii, and sent emails to supporters asking them to donate directly to the candidates.
Those candidates included Sen. Claire McCaskill, who was re-elected in Missouri, and successful Senate candidates Mazie Hirono in Hawaii, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin and Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts.
Gillibrand also helped raise campaign cash for unsuccessful Senate candidate Shelley Berkley in Nevada and for women running for House seats, including state Assemblywoman Grace Meng of New York City, Rep. Louise Slaughter of the Rochester area and Rep. Kathy Hochul of Erie County. Meng and Slaughter won, but Hochul was defeated.
Gillibrand's fundraising prowess has led to speculation she might be tapped by Senate Democrats to chair the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the 2013-2014 campaign cycle.
But Gillibrand gave a definitive no when asked Thursday if she was interested. She said she likes helping candidates with similar values raise money, but running the DSCC would be much more demanding.
"You literally are helping to run campaigns across the country, and that's not something I aspire to do,'' she explained. "I like to do what I did this cycle, and frankly I really enjoy being able to choose candidates across the country who share my priorities and help them directly and do fundraisers for them and introduce them to my supporters.''