Green Party congressional candidate Matt Funiciello is content to be the political engine that almost could.
“If I come in second, it’s amazing forward movement,” said Funiciello, who is running in the 21st Congressional District against U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, and Democrat Mike Derrick, a retired Army colonel from Peru, in Clinton County.
Funiciello recently conceded in several media interviews that Stefanik will win the congressional race and he is focused on coming in second.
“If we beat a major party, whether it’s Elise or Mike, that’s never been done in a (three-way) congressional race, ever, as far as we know,” said Funiciello, a bread company owner and political activist from Hudson Falls.
“I’m just satisfied to continue making forward movement. It doesn’t mean I want to lose,” he said.
Several political analysts said Funiciello’s tact is a sound political strategy.
“It makes sense as a strategy, it makes sense to make that statement,” said Chris Mann, a government professor at Skidmore College. “And in some ways there’s an implicit attack trying to reach out to say, ‘Look, Stefanik’s going to win anyway. So vote the way your heart is instead of hold your nose and vote for the Democrat.’”
“It’s not the kind of personal attacks we’ve seen at the presidential level or in any other campaigns. It’s more of an ideological attack, if you will,” he said.
Mann, a former political strategist, said the 21st Congressional District race leans Republican, but it would be a long shot for Funiciello to come in second.
Mann said it’s possible, even, that Derrick could win an upset if there is a low Republican voter turnout.
“Stefanik has a lot of advantages. The district tilts toward her party. She is an incumbent. She showed last time around she is a good campaigner,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s out of the question that Derrick could win. He needs a lot of things to go right, to go his way.”
David Catalfamo, a Republican political strategist from Albany, said Funiciello has a good chance of coming in second because he has strong name recognition, is charismatic, and is familiar with the district.
Funiciello ran in a three-way race in the 21st District in 2014 and received about 11 percent of the vote.
He has increased his campaign appearances this year, particularly in the western part of the district where he was not well known.
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Catalfamo said the low level of political action committee spending, independent of campaigns, in the 21st District is an indication the race is leaning toward Stefanik, the incumbent Republican.
Political action committees had spent $2.4 million in New York’s 19th District, as of Thursday morning, $1.7 million in the 22nd District, $905,613 in the 24th District, $313,885 in the 3rd District, and $302,600 in the 1st District, but only $106,000 in the 21st District, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
All of the money spent in the 21st District was for advertising supporting Stefanik.
It’s feasible a Green Party congressional candidate could come in second, given the unusual political climate, said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political strategist in New York City.
“When both (major) parties in the country are in serious trouble, third parties are having a real impact because people don’t want to make choices between the two parties,” he said. “His (Funiciello’s) belief is that unacceptability of major party candidates benefits him in this election.”
Sheinkopf said it’s too soon to tell how that sentiment will affect voter turnout.
“So it’s a brave prediction for himself, but it may not come to pass,” he said.
Stefanik, through a spokesman, would not comment on this issue.
Derrick, on his campaign Facebook page, criticized Funiciello for conceding the race to Stefanik.
“It’s disappointing when candidates run for office just to build themselves up, specifically when they very clearly have no intention of winning,” Derrick said. “I believe in winning now — not two years from now. The stakes are too high.”
Funiciello said he is not out to promote himself but to build the Green Party as an alternative party.
“We can only affect that agenda if more and more people are aware of the Green Party, if more and more people are aware of our candidacies and our campaigns and our issues,” he said.
Funiciello said his conceding the race should not be viewed as support for Stefanik.
“It’s simply a matter of mathematics if we’re talking about the horse race,” he said.