If you’re wondering whether our Republican congresswoman, Elise Stefanik, will run for governor next year — and if she runs, how well she could do — two numbers provide the answers: 61 and 38.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won 61% of the vote in New York. Donald Trump and Mike Pence won 38%.
That is what’s known as a landslide, or a drubbing, or a massacre.
For comparison, Stefanik’s margin over Democrat Tedra Cobb in the 21st District race was 59-41, which Stefanik celebrated as a great win and the largest margin of victory in the district ever.
It’s easy up here to think that the way Stefanik lashed herself to Trump over the past two years won’t hurt her much in a statewide race — that the antipathy to the past president downstate will be balanced out by his popularity upstate — but the numbers contradict that.
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It’s not just that New Yorkers preferred Biden to Trump. New Yorkers who voted against Trump were motivated by a passionate dislike of him and a conviction he was unfit for office. Anyone who made the choice to link their political fate with his, as Stefanik did through her repeated cheerleading for and impassioned defense of Trump, has no chance of getting elected governor.
Stefanik is a smart, if unprincipled, campaigner, which is why we’re skeptical about her alleged gubernatorial ambitions. It feels like wishful thinking, not only by upstate politicians (Dan Stec, we’re guessing, thinks she would make a great, great governor), but also by upstate reporters. It’s good copy when your local representative gains prominence, and it’s easy to get a skewed view of the state’s political dynamic when you spend most of your time talking to Republican officials north of Albany.
For a clear-eyed view of Stefanik’s chances, take a look at the recent column in the Times-Union by Chris Churchill, who works in Albany, where Democrats hold both legislative chambers and occupy the governor’s mansion.
“It. Will. Never. Happen.” Churchill says.
Perhaps time will reveal why Stefanik chose to ally herself so closely with Trump, when it wasn’t necessary for her reelection or any other reason we can see. But she couldn’t have been trying to position herself for a statewide campaign, unless she is a more inept politician than she appears to be.
Allowing her name to be floated in the gubernatorial conversation, bragging about her fundraising and appointing herself as Andrew Cuomo’s most enthusiastic antagonist in the federal government all serve to raise her profile in New York and nationwide, and that may be her real purpose.
The image she has cultivated won’t get her elected governor, but it might help her get a job in Republican circles — chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, for example. Maybe she is positioning herself for a job in a second Trump administration (God help us).
Many astute Republican politicians, like Stefanik, have decided Trumpism is the path to success, even now that he is out of office. For those of us who see Trumpism as a threat to the survival of our democracy, this should serve as a warning.
Meanwhile, we will be treated to more speculation by a willing press about Stefanik’s shot at the state’s top job, followed by explanations of why her prospects are so poor.