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Kirsten Gillibrand's Alan Keyes

Another Kirsten Gillibrand factoid: Like Barack Obama, Gillibrand is an immensely talented politician who got her break thanks to the lucky accident of having a hot mess for an opponent.

When Gillibrand jumped into her New York House race in late 2005, she was a real long shot to upset incumbent John Sweeney, thanks to the district's double-digit Republican registration edge. Other Republicans breezily called the district a "safe seat." But then Sweeney underwent, if not an A-tier political meltdown (Larry Craig, Vito Fossella), definitely a serious one. First he was hospitalized for mysterious brain swelling. Then he was spotted at a late-night Union College frat party, allegedly drunk and "swearing." Then a probe was opened into a junket he took with a Jack Abramoff employee to the infamous Northern Mariana Islands. And then reports came out that the police had been called to his home for allegations of spousal abuse. Gillibrand ran a good campaign, but that year Sweeney probably would have lost to a hand puppet.

Of course, like Obama, Gillibrand went on to prove her mettle by thrashing an establishment figure in her re-election campaign, Republican don Sandy Treadwell, who was Pataki's Secretary of State. (Treadwell proved to be so establishment it hurt his image: New York area alt-weekly Metroland wrote that while Treadwell, the independently wealthy scion of a General Electric magnate, was suffering from jokes that he had "never worked a day in his life," that "assertion is inaccurate, as Treadwell wrote briefly for Sports Illustrated.")

--Eve Fairbanks