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Potential challengers to Owens exploring run

Republican businesswoman with White House experience among possible congressional candidates

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Elise Stefanik

Elise Stefanik

A businesswoman from Willsboro who worked at the White House during the Bush administration is touring the 21st Congressional District as she considers seeking the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, next year.

“I’m concerned about the direction of this country,” said Elise Stefanik, who works in sales, marketing and management for Premium Plywood Products, a company headquartered in Guilderland Center that her family owns.

Stefanik, if she decides to run, would be a formidable candidate because of her persona, her business experience and her political experience — working in the White House chief of staff’s office during President George W. Bush’s administration, and as a debate preparation adviser to GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan in 2012, said Essex County Republican Chairman Ron Jackson.

“She’s a very bright, energetic young lady with quite a bit of experience,” said Jackson, who is regional vice chairman of the state Republican Committee.

“She’s got quite a lot of connections in Washington, not as much locally,” he said. “That is what she is doing now is meeting people and establishing those relationships and deciding whether she wants to run or not.”

Stefanik is one of at least three Republicans considering the race. Republican leaders said she has been doing the most legwork, so far.

Joe Gilbert, a tea party leader from Gouveneur, said Friday he is considering the race.

Gilbert is director of the St. Lawrence County Office of Emergency Services.

Warren County Republican Chairman Michael Grasso said another potential female candidate, who he would not name, has spoken with the National Republican Congressional Committee about the race.

Owens, the Democratic incumbent, was first elected in a special election in 2009, and was re-elected in 2010 and 2012.

He received just over 50 percent of the vote in 2012 in a three-way race with Republican and Green Party opponents in the newly drawn 21st Congressional District, which includes all or parts of 12 counties, including Warren, Washington and northern Saratoga counties, stretching from Lake Champlain to Lake Ontario.

Owens had $306,431 in his campaign fund, as of June 30, according to the Federal Election Commission, a comfortable head start on any potential Republican opponent.

Owens is waiting to comment on the race until an opponent formally announces his or her candidacy, said Tim Biba, the congressman’s spokesman.

Stefanik said she has not yet established an exploratory committee, which would enable her to begin fundraising.

She said she expects it will be a while before she makes a definitive decision on the race.

“I’m not going to make a decision for a few more months,” she said.

Regardless, she is sounding much like a candidate in her Twitter posts.

“Over the past 2 HOT days, heard about the struggles of small businesses during visits in Clinton, Essex, Warren, Saratoga & Washington counties,” she posted on Thursday.

On July 13, she posted that she attended an event in Lake George and took a walking tour of downtown Glens Falls.

Stefanik, in the telephone interview, said she graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in 2006.

She was editorial editor and a contributor to The Harvard Crimson, the college newspaper.

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