A campaign for the NY-21 Congressional District that began almost two years ago ended on Nov. 6, with U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, elected to her third two-year term.
The race began when Patrick Nelson of Stillwater kicked off his candidacy in January 2017. The Democratic field would eventually grow to as many as 10 candidates before settling into a field of five for the June primary.
Tedra Cobb of Canton, a business consultant and former two-term St. Lawrence County legislator, won a decisive victory with 56 percent of the vote to become the Democratic nominee. However, the National Republican Congressional Committee launched negative attacks right out of the gate, labeling her “Taxin’ Tedra” over votes she cast while an elected official.
The race was rocked by a video released in July by Republicans in which Cobb was heard telling youths at a Teens for Tedra event at a private home that she supported a ban on assault weapons. However, she said she could not take that position publicly because she would not get elected.
The video was recorded in May by Clifton Park teenager Preston Scagnelli, who was revealed to be an unpaid intern for the Stefanik campaign. He was also paid nearly $1,000 by the NRCC for “research materials consulting” for the video and other instances where he tracked Cobb. The incident brought to light the issue of “trackers,” who are paid to follow candidates around to try and catch them making a misstatement or an embarrassing remark.
Stefanik admitted that Scagnelli worked on her campaign, but denied knowing anything about his tracking. She said she, herself, has been tracked, and she reiterated in a phone interview Thursday that “a candidate is responsible for their own words.”
The Stefanik campaign and RNCC hammered Cobb on the gun issue, and Cobb did not attempt to retract that statement or clarify her position.
When asked if she would have done anything differently, Cobb said in a telephone interview on Friday that she believes what was lost in the coverage of the secretly recorded video was the broader conversation about gun violence and the fears of the teenagers.
“Over the course of the last several months, we have people who have been killed in a synagogue. We’ve had school shootings. It’s an epidemic and we have to deal with at as a country and we’re not,” she said.
Cobb added that it is not about responsible gun owners, but rather it is about preventing people with mental health issues from having access to guns.
Stefanik also had a huge fundraising advantage — raising nearly $2.5 million this election cycle compared with $1.53 million for Cobb, according to reports from the Federal Election Commission. That allowed Stefanik to get on the air with commercials attacking “Taxin’ Tedra” and calling her a “Cuomo clone” for raising taxes and supporting government-run health care.
Stefanik spent nearly $3 million compared with $1.5 million for Cobb, according to the FEC filings.
Cobb started to get traction in the fall, beating Stefanik in fundraising for two consecutive quarters. Cobb released her first commercial in October, telling corporate interests: “Hands off the North Country.”
Health care was a major focus of the race, with Cobb criticizing Stefanik for her vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Cobb touted her experience in using a grant to start the St. Lawrence County Health Initiative to increase access to health care for the uninsured and under-insured.
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Cobb also criticized Stefanik’s environmental record for her vote to rescind a rule that restricted coal companies from dumping waste into waterways.
However, Cobb was not able to overcome the enrollment edge that Republicans have in NY-21, and Stefanik won decisively. However, Stefanik did not capture all 12 counties. After all absentee ballots were counted, Cobb out-polled Stefanik in Essex and Clinton counties, where the number of registered Democrats outnumbers registered Republicans.
Green Party congressional candidate Lynn Kahn, who ran for president in 2016, was not much of a factor in this race. She received only 1.5 percent of the vote — unlike Matt Funiciello’s 4.5 percent in 2016.
Stefanik’s margin of victory was less than the previous two elections. She beat Cobb 56 percent to 42 percent compared with her 65 percent win over Democrat Mike Derrick in 2016.
In a phone interview Thursday, Stefanik attributed the outcome to a tough political environment for Republicans.
Stefanik reiterated talking points from the campaign when asked if she would have done anything differently in the race.
“I ran on my record of results, versus my opponent’s resistance with no specific solutions. I’m looking forward to continuing to deliver those results back to my district on a bipartisan basis for the next two years,” she said.
Stefanik will be in the minority for the first time when the new Congress convenes in January.
She said she will be able to reach across the aisle, citing bills she sponsored to reform mental health programs and to repeal the mandate that required employers with more than 200 full-time workers to automatically enroll new employees in an employer-sponsored plan, which President Barack Obama signed into law.
As the 2018 campaign fades into history, attention turns toward 2020 — a presidential election year.
There could be a potential rematch in NY-21 as Cobb on Election Night talked about Stefanik’s margin of victory and the goal of closing the gap and taking back the seat.
Cobb said Friday she has not made a firm commitment about whether to run again. She said she will return to her consulting business and has recently been appointed to a committee working on ethics reform in the town and village.
Cobb said she was proud to run a campaign with “integrity and grit.”
“It was important to be honest and to run a clean campaign. I believe I did that. I think that we engaged people in a way that really mobilized people to participate in the election process,” she said.