A little more than 5 months after Republican U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik was re-elected to her third term, the 2020 campaign has started, with Democrat Tedra Cobb officially entering the race on Monday to unseat her.
“Northern New York deserves a representative who will put partisan politics aside and fight to reduce the cost of health care, protect our air and water, improve our infrastructure and economy, and reduce the influence of corporations and billionaires in Washington,” Cobb said at her announcement in Canton, according to a news release.
She immediately went on the attack targeting Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, on healthcare stances in her announcement.
“Congress is broken, and Northern New Yorkers are paying the price. When it comes to the issues that matter most to families in our region, we need more than talk. We need action. I’ve spent my life fighting for my neighbors in the North Country. I worked to connect them to the healthcare they needed, worked to open the first safe house in the region for domestic violence survivors, and led the fight to increase transparency and accountability in local government,” Cobb said in a news release.
Cobb said in a follow-up phone interview she planned to focus on similar themes including health care and the environment. She read an article about a family who launched an online campaign to raise money for their child who needs surgery.
“We should not have GoFundMe sites to pay for our health care needs,” she said.
Cobb criticized Stefanik for taking money from pharmaceutical companies and voting for their interests.
Cobb has not committed to a specific health care reform plan such as Medicare for All, but she is continuing to look at some new proposals that have been offered to build upon and improve the Affordable Care Act.
“Everyone should have affordable and portable health care,” she said. “I’m going to continue to talk about the issues and not take money from corporate donors to seek to influence Congress.”
In addition, Cobb said she plans to attack Stefanik on her environmental record.
“We’re breathing the pollution from Elise Stefanik’s bad environmental votes. She’s taken money from coal companies and we’re paying the price from that,” she said.
Cobb also criticized Stefanik for her recent vote against the Women Against Violence Act. The legislation would have voted to close the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” which would have made it easier to take away guns from a person convicted of abusing, assaulting or stalking a dating partner.
Cobb lost to Stefanik, 42%to 56%, in 2018. Green Party candidate Lynn Kahn received 1.4%. Stefanik won 10 of the 12 counties in the district, but Cobb outpolled Stefanik in Essex and Clinton counties, where the number of registered Democrats outnumbers registered Republicans.
However, it was a narrower margin of victory for Stefanik, who beat Mike Derrick 65% to 30% in 2016, with Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello getting 5%.
Cobb is a business consultant who served on the St. Lawrence County Legislature from 2002 through 2010. She captured 56% in a five-way Democratic primary to earn the nomination.
She had to fight off attacks from the Stefanik campaign that started on Primary Night with the label ‘Taxin’ Tedra” because of her votes as a county legislator to raise taxes. In addition, the campaign was rocked in July with the release of a video recorded in May at a Teens for Tedra event in which Cobb was heard saying that she believes assault weapons should be banned. However, she could not take that position publicly because she would not get elected.
Stefanik’s campaign already has gone negative, releasing a two-minute video advertisement titled “Tedra Cobb’s Greatest Hits.”
“Tedra Cobb. The candidate who couldn’t get elected is back for another try,” a female narrates as upbeat circus-type music plays in the background.
The advertisement plays a clip from the Teens for Tedra talk. It also contains clips of Cobb at forums or interviews where she tripped over her words and Cobb speaking at forum where she said that women in Brazil are having fewer children because they are watching soap operas and women on the soap opera are having fewer children.
It also contains a quote in which Cobb says that the country cannot continue to sustain its military spending.
The advertisement concludes by saying: “Tedra Cobb’s radical agenda: wrong for the North Country. We can’t wait for 2020,” followed by the “I’m Elise Stefanik and I approve this message” tag at the end.
Cobb was not surprised that Stefanik has already gone negative.
“She’s doing it because she cannot talk about her record. She cannot talk about how she failed the people in this district. She cannot talk about how she voted to repeal the ACA without a replacement,” she said.
Regarding gun control, Cobb said she criticized Stefanik’s vote against expanding background checks, which she said are supported by about 90 percent of Americans.
Cobb said something must be done about the epidemic of gun violence in this country.
“My intention is never to take away someone’s right to own a gun who’s responsible, but I certainly will work with other families and kids to protect our community,” she said.
Doing the work
Cobb said she plans to hit the road to meet with as many people as she can in the 17,000 square miles of NY-21. The district encompasses all of Warren, Washington, Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence counties and portions of Saratoga and Herkimer counties.
Warren County Democratic Committee Chairwoman Lynn Boecher said she believes that Cobb is an effective candidate because she is “authentic.”
“She’s stayed pretty true to the values she espoused during the campaign,” she said.
In addition, Boecher said Cobb has not just faded into the woodwork after her election loss. She is familiar with the local issues and the candidates running for local office.
“She knows her homework and she knows the county,” Boecher said.
Cobb has a strong network of volunteers and offered to assist local candidates in running for office with petitions, according to Boecher.
Another advantage is name recognition. Boecher said she has not heard of any Democrat stepping forward at this time.
Boecher said that in Warren County, voters are informed and not as likely to vote in a party line vote, but someone who votes with their values.
Boecher also likes that Cobb does not resort to negative campaigning, which she believes the country is tired of.
“She’s focused on legislation that is impacting us negatively. She doesn’t do that by framing a vitriolic attack on Elise Stefanik, which I frankly find refreshing,” she said.
When asked if Cobb had a chance at unseating Stefanik, Boecher said she is realistic but pointed to the current occupant of the Oval Office.
“If anybody two years ago, in 2016, said Donald Trump had a shot, we all said he didn’t have a shot and he’s president of the United States. In this day and age, anybody has a shot,” she said.