ELIZABETHTOWN - The results are in for the GOP endorsement. The county chairs chose Elise Stefanik to represent the Republican Party in the race for New York's 21st Congressional District.
Stefanik, from Willsboro, Joe Gilbert of DeKalb Junction and Michael Ring of Adams Center were the three candidates under consideration by the county chairs Friday afternoon at the Halfway House restaurant and bar outside Elizabethtown. Stefanik won 11 out of 12 counties, with Jefferson County deciding not to endorse.
"I'm so humble today," Stefanik said, "that 11 out of 12 counties decided to endorse me."
Elise Stefanik is interviewed following the announcement of her endorsement by the GOP county chairs.
(Enterprise photo — Matthew Turner)
The three GOP candidates front and center are, from left, Joe Gilbert, Elise Stefanik and Michael Ring on the right. Behind them are the Republican County chairs.
(Enterprise photo — Matthew Turner)
Stefanik's strategy is to run for the position and not against any particular challengers.
"I'm just focused on this campaign," she said. "Washington needs new ideas because it is broken."
Stefanik currently works for her family's small business, Premium Plywood Products, a wholesale plywood distributor, but the Harvard University graduate made some political connections during her prior career in Washington. She was an aide to President George W. Bush for his Domestic Policy Council and in his chief of staff's office, and she was also director of debate preparation for Rep. Paul Ryan during his run for vice president. Ryan later endorsed Stefanik.
Asked if critics will believe this means she is a Washington insider, she said it does not.
"I have had a privilege to work at the White House at a young age," Stefanik said. "Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Paul Ryan, he is putting forward solutions.
"I'm from New York state originally," she said. "I grew up in a family with no political connections.
"I think my background is a statement that I will be that breath of fresh air."
Ring endorsed Stefanik after the meeting ended, saying he would help her campaign if called upon.
"I want to congratulate Elise," Ring said. "I'm endorsing her as of today. I think it's better for it to be a team effort."
Gilbert has different plans in mind.
"I've been asked if I am going to force a primary," Gilbert said. "I don't think that's the appropriate word."
Gilbert told the Enterprise he "absolutely" plans to be on the primary ballot and isn't worried about collecting the needed signatures to do it.
"I've got a pretty good ground game all over the district," he said.
Gilbert believes Stefanik's ties to Ryan could hurt her with some conservatives, noting Ryan helped pass the recent federal budget that he believes wasn't good enough.
"If all those issues are brought to life, absolutely," Gilbert said.
Essex County Republican Chairman Ron Jackson, who also serves as a state Republican committee regional vice chair, said Stefanik was the best choice.
"We appreciate the efforts put forth by all of our prospective candidates, and we are fortunate to have such individuals from which to select our next member of Congress," said Jackson. "In the end, I think the results speak for themselves. Elise possesses the drive, small business experience and institutional knowledge necessary to create jobs while faithfully representing the aspirations and values of North Country residents."
Jackson said a primary would not be good for the party.
"I don't think a primary is a good thing; it takes time and money," Jackson said. "Most of the time the endorsed candidates end up winning, in my experience."
Ray Scollin of Saranac Lake, Franklin County Republican chairman, was pleased with the endorsement of Stefanik.
"The result is indicative of a changing political landscape." Scollin said. "Elise represents the next generation. It is their turn. She is a bright, energetic candidate who will bring jobs to the North Country."
Stefanik said the most difficult aspect of running for office so far has been the geography. The 21st District is the largest in New York. That won't stop her from traveling to the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Gala Parade Saturday afternoon.