Congress candidates gain national attention

PLATTSBURGH — Much like it did in 2009, the race for the 21st Congressional District seat is gaining some national attention.

Democratic candidate Katie Wilson has had opinion pieces printed in national publications, and former CNBC cable television host Dylan Ratigan has now joined the race, raising the profile of the contest.

Wilson and Ratigan are two of eight Democrats battling for the chance to run against incumbent Elise Stefanik in the November election.

A political expert says national exposure can only raise a candidate’s profile.

“In the internet age, the line between national and local coverage is disappearing,” Dr. Harvey Schantz of SUNY Plattsburgh’s Political Science Department said.

“In all, going national, in this instance, is a winning gambit.”

Chased dreams

Wilson’s recent opinion piece in Teen Vogue emphasized the need for federal representatives who actually live with the policies enacted by those in Washington, D.C., and called on voters to support “people with real-world experience.

“I’m a young single mother who owns a consignment shop. I’m an entrepreneur who kept chasing dreams and starting businesses because I was ambitious and needed to put food on the table,” wrote Wilson, 33, of Keene in Essex County.

“I’ve had my share of successes and failures in life, and overall my story isn’t that unique … but it would be in Congress. And that’s the point.”

Teen Vogue, which claims to have a growing political readership, published Wilson’s piece just days after a separate piece of hers ran in Refinery29, a digital media and entertainment site that’s focused on young women.

“Genuine voice”

Wilson’s columns focus on her commitment to bringing a “genuine voice” to Congress, one that can speak to the real impact of the policies being passed thousands of miles away from the districts they impact, by millionaires who can barely call their districts “home,” a news release from her campaign said.

She uses her pieces to highlight the need for those in Congress to understand what’s going on across America, her release said.

“In this moment, when the ideological divide is as wide as ever, I’d argue that people with direct experience living the policies created in Washington, D.C., should be brought to the proverbial table,” Wilson wrote in Teen Vogue.

“Let’s include people with real-world experience in our legislative process so the conversation about problems and solutions isn’t strictly theoretical.”

Boisterous voice

Ratigan, a native of Saranac Lake who now lives in Lake Placid, was known as a boisterous voice on CNBC, discussing money and politics. He also is the author of a best-selling book.

A large throng of media from in and out of the area showed up at his campaign kickoff last week.

Schantz said national attention adds to the status of a candidate, excites voters and may even attract the attention of national political action committees, interest groups and individual donors.

“There is an old saying, usually attributed to the former Speaker Tip O’Neill, that ‘all politics is local.’ But this is somewhat of an exaggeration since national issues and personalities almost always intrude upon congressional elections and primaries,” Schantz said.

“Thus the candidates for our congressional seat will be evaluated by voters in part on their views toward tax cuts, gun control, President [Donald] Trump and [House Minority] Leader [Nancy] Pelosi.”

“Free media crucial”

Schantz said follow-up local media coverage is also important to a candidate.

“Voters usually consider local journalism more credible than self-promotion. Given the costs and difficulty of campaigning in a district as large as NY 21, earned free media is crucial to gaining widespread positive name recognition and should be an important part of any campaign,” he said.

“I might venture to say newspaper coverage is particularly important in this primary because older voters, the most loyal newspaper readers, are also the most likely to vote in primary and midterm elections.”

Intra-party tussles

With a field as large as the Democratic field for the 21st District race, Schantz said, candidates will need any chance they can get to distinguish themselves.

“Candidate themes and activities are highlighted in intra-party tussles because, unlike a general election, voters’ choices are not structured by their pre-existing party identification,” he said.

“Most, if not all, of the Democrats, as seen in the recent forum, agree on the overwhelming number of national issues, so the candidates have to distinguish themselves by their biographies, attributes and ability to advocate the party line.”

Critical swing vote

In 2009, a special election filled the seat of Republican John McHugh, who left Congress to take the appointment of secretary of the Army from President Barack Obama.

It was one of only a few races for the House that year and was seen as a critical swing vote for the president’s Affordable Care Act.

Democrat Bill Owens of Plattsburgh won the race, becoming the first Democrat to take the seat since the Civil War era.

He defeated Conservative Party candidate Douglas Hoffman of Lake Placid.

Republican Dierdre “Dede” Scozzafava dropped out of the race two days before the election and gave her support to Owens.

National media covered the race closely, and on Election Day, they packed Owens’s campaign headquarters.

Stefanik herself made national news when she became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress when she won the seat in 2014.

(Editor’s note: Four daily newspapers in the North Country — the Enterprise, Post-Star of Glens Falls, Watertown Daily Times and Press-Republican of Plattsburgh — are sharing content to better cover New York’s 21st Congressional District.)