It’s on between Elise Stefanik and Tedra Cobb

Tedra Cobb checks out Democratic primary results on a computer Tuesday night at the Best Western hotel in Canton. (Photo provided — Christopher Lenney, Watertown Daily Times)

Tedra Cobb did not have even 24 hours to celebrate her victory in Tuesday’s congressional Democratic primary before she was the subject of her first attack ad.

The campaign of U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, sent out a news release criticizing Cobb’s votes as a St. Lawrence County legislator and debuted a video advertisement dubbing the Canton resident as “Taxin’ Tedra.”

The Cobb campaign responded with a release of its own saying, “It’s more of the same mean, dishonest politics coming out of a Washington that desperately needs to be changed.”

Stefanik campaign spokesman Lenny Alcivar declined a request to have the congresswoman talk about the criticism of Cobb and said the campaign statement spoke for itself.

The general election campaign has started.

During a telephone interview earlier in the afternoon before the digital ad was released, Cobb reflected on her commanding primary win — receiving 56 percent of the vote — and her plan to attack Stefanik’s voting record.

“I entered the race because Elise Stefanik voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That would have jeopardized our hospitals, nursing homes, our clinics,” Cobb said.

About 64,000 people in the district would have lost health insurance coverage and health care jobs would have been lost as well, according to Cobb.

The Canton resident said she also plans to focus on education and that entitlement benefits such as Medicare and Medicaid are at risk because this Congress voted to give the rich a tax break. (Stefanik voted against that legislation.) In the statement, Cobb also criticized Stefanik’s votes to weaken environmental regulations and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Cobb believes that she has a good shot to defeat Stefanik, despite the fact that there are nearly 50,000 more Republicans than Democrats in New York’s 21st Congressional District.

Cobb said many voters in the district are unaffiliated with a party — more than 94,000 as of April 1 of this year, according to the state Board of Elections.

“People in this district vote for the best candidate to represent them. We are fiercely independent, and we want a good representative,” she said.

Good ground game

Cobb attributed her large primary win to a good ground game with more than 900 volunteers helping.

“We had 20,000 personal phone calls or door knocks,” she said.

Bert Weber of Glens Falls cited one of those contacts with the campaign as why he chose Cobb.

“She personally asked for my vote,” he said.

Her primary opponents acknowledged Cobb’s strong organization.

Katie Wilson told about 40 supporters at the Plattsburgh Brewing Company on Tuesday night to fight for her in the general election.

“Right now, what everyone has to do is work like hell to make sure that Tedra Cobb in our next congresswoman,” she said.

Cobb said Martz, Nelson and Wilson all called her personally to wish her well.

Importance of TV ads

Ratigan issued a statement with one sentence congratulating Cobb on her win. However, he also took a veiled shot at her in remarks to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

“There’s a disproportionate influence in the television ad buy, which creates a disproportionate difference … where not necessarily the best or most qualified candidate wins, but the candidate that spends the most money on television wins, which is certainly what happened in this particular instance here,” he said. “Her victory speaks to the power of television more than it speaks to the power of her candidacy.”

Cobb spent $170,000 on television production and advertising to spread her message, according to Campaign Manager Mike Szustak.

Cobb defended that use of resources.

“TV plays a part in that it’s a really huge district. People need to know who I am, why I’m running and what I’m going to do for them as a representative,” she said.

Cobb said relying on volunteers helped conserve money. Her campaign has about $40,000 left in its coffers.

Views on turnout mixed

Wilson was disappointed in the low voter turnout.

“We need to make sure we get more people engaged,” she said.

Despite the competitive five-way primary, about 15 percent of the roughly 128,000 registered Democrats in the district turned out to vote, according to an analysis of the machine counts and absentee ballots already returned. Ballots are accepted through July 3 as long as they are postmarked by June 25.

The Democrats have not had a primary for this seat in recent memory, so it is difficult to get a sense of how this turnout compares to the general election. About 15 percent of registered Republicans in the district voted in the 2014 primary, which featured Stefanik and Matt Doheny. Stefanik was making her first bid for office, and Doheny had been the Republican’s 2012 nominee for the seat — then held by U.S. Rep. Bill Owens. Only about 7.5 percent of Republicans turned out for a 2012 primary featuring Doheny and Kellie Greene.

Nelson said he thought the turnout was pretty good.

“Depending on how many absentees come in, we might touch 20,000, which is far beyond expectations,” he said.

Martz said the turnout made her feel hopeful about the general election.

“We sent a really strong message that Democrats are here. Democrats are strong. Democrats are ready to take back our seat in November,” she said.

Wendy Johnston, assistant professor of political science at SUNY Adirondack, said she thought turnout would be higher. She attributed the turnout to voters not being aware of the primary. New York holds its federal primary in June and primary for state offices in September.

Margin of victory surprising

Johnston said she expected Cobb to win because she had been polling fairly high for awhile, but not by such a large margin. Johnston believes Cobb did well because she talked about her experience and shared personal stories about how the issues affect her. One television commercial talked about a health issue a family member experienced.

“I think that appeals in a lot of ways to voters — especially right now, the typical insider Democrat is not appealing,” she said.

Johnston was alluding to the shocking victory over 10-term U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley by 28-year-old political newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the district that covers parts of the Bronx and Queens.

However, Johnston said Cobb is going to have to offer more specifics during the general election campaign about what policies she would like to implement and how she plans to do it.

“The narrative is great, but action is stronger,” Johnston said.

Another factor, according to Johnston, is Cobb was perceived as not as liberal as some of the other candidates. The district is heavily conservative.

“If you have a candidate who can speak more of a moderate voice, they’re probably going to do better,” she said.

Johnston was not surprised that Stefanik was already out with an attack ad because her campaign up to this point has been very quiet — avoiding forums and not saying much.

“She’s going to be more vocal, and her campaign is going to be more aggressive,” she said.

Johnston anticipates a lot of mudslinging in the campaign.

“Given the current divisiveness of politics in general, we can expect an aggressive name-calling, finger-pointing campaign to come out of this,” she said.

Johnston said the district may see some outside money, but she believes there are other districts where national Democrats are going to focus their attention.

The 270 to Win political website does not list NY-21 as one of the races it considers to be a target for a Democratic pickup, but other seats, including NY-19, which is held by Republican first-term U.S. Rep. John Faso of Kinderhook, are listed.

“I think the feeling [is] that the incumbent in this district is very strong and has a likelihood of success, so the Democrats may not choose to put a lot of resources into this race,” Johnston said.


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