Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP file photo

Kirsten Gillibrand: It's 'Vital' That a Woman Becomes President in 2016

The junior senator from New York hopes it's Hillary Clinton, but she's positioning herself well if that doesn't happen.

 Speaking to an intimate audience of almost exclusively women on Tuesday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand asserted that it was critical not only for Democrats to nominate a woman in 2016, but also for that woman to become president.

At a recording of the SiriusXM radio show The Agenda put on by the liberal women's group EMILY's List, where the New York Democrat appeared on a panel to discuss women's increasing influence in politics, Gillibrand didn't play coy about who the next woman president should be.

"I am very hopeful that Secretary Clinton will decide to run," she said. "I think she's the strongest candidate the Democrats could field."

Gillibrand painted herself as one of Hillary Clinton's biggest supporters, emphasizing that she would pledge her full support for a Clinton run. But she also made sure to highlight her own legislative efforts to help women. Universal prekindergarten, paid leave, and combatting sexual assault in the military are all central to creating a better country for women, she said.

Less than 10 minutes into the discussion, Democratic strategist Bill Burton, who was on the panel with the senator, made a veiled reference to the possibility of Gillibrand running. Smiling and angling toward the senator, Burton said he hopes his 3-year-old son will see a woman president, "whether that's Hillary Clinton or somebody else."

Gillibrand has made it clear that if Clinton runs, she won't—she told National Journal after the event that she'll support Clinton "110 percent." But her efforts to engage women voters point to a savvy politician playing the long game. Aligning herself with powerful women's groups sets her up to be Clinton's heir apparent as the voice for women in the Democratic Party. After Clinton likely takes her turn in 2016, Gillibrand will be well-prepared to assume that role.