1. North Country GOP strengthens in year of Trump

Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally April 15 at the Crete Center in Plattsburgh. (Enterprise photo — Antonio Olivero)

PLATTSBURGH — Billionaire Republican Donald Trump may have become the president-elect on Nov. 8, but April 15, 2016 will go down as perhaps the most seminal day in the history of modern American politics for the Adirondacks.

It was on that afternoon that candidate Trump took his Republican primary tour to the Crete Civic Center in Plattsburgh, just four days before he was a dominant winner across New York. Here Trump was, delivering his latest half-hour “Make America Great Again” speech in front of 3,000 of his closest North Country friends.

Atop an astro-turf field that, till hours prior, was supposed to host youth soccer games, Trump gazed into a sea of iPhones held high in the air to capture the celebrity businessman.

Two hundred and two days later, on Election Day, he would win four years as the 45th president of the United States, the first native New Yorker to hold the office since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and eighth ever.

“We have great, great people of this state, we have people that are admired all over the world for their energy, for their intelligence, for everything,” Trump proclaimed in Plattsburgh. “And we are going to bring this state back. But we are going to bring this country back (too). Because everybody, I think, we put our country even before our state.”

A crowd cheers for presidential candidate Donald Trump at a campaign rally April 15 at the Crete Center in Plattsburgh. (Enterprise photo — Antonio Olivero)

So went the roller coaster ride that was the 2016 election, a seemingly never-ending real life referendum assessing the U.S.’s permanence in an ever-evolving world conducted by the people of this proud country.

The cast of characters featured in this watershed American political drama featured a former reality television star-turned-populist savior in Trump, a divisive former Senator who served this state, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, and a vindicator from nearby Vermont who excited millions, Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Trump’s appearance in Plattsburgh was the paramount illustration of the hotbed for political discourse and division the North Country became over the past 12 months. At the presidential level, Trump explicitly spoke of the plight of upstate New York’s economy numerous times deep into the election cycle.

It was the collective power of millions of voters across the country concerned with the financial hardship of themselves and their once robust communities that propelled Trump into the White House. Though Clinton won New York, a state that historically holds the darkest shade of blue, the force of Trump’s message here in the Adirondacks was no different.

Between Essex and Franklin counties, Trump won 47.4 percent of the vote compared to Clinton’s 44.1 percent. In Tupper Lake, Trump ran up an even more impressive margin defeating Clinton with 50.9 percent of the vote (1,138 votes) compared to Clinton’s 41 percent (917 votes).

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik celebrates her re-election victory on the night of Election Day in Glens Falls. (Enterprise photo — Antonio Olivero)

Sixty-year-old Marine veteran Ron Terry of Redford was one of the Adirondackers giddy about Trump throughout this cycle. Terry, a veteran, playfully dubbed his candidate “President Trump” while looking over Trump buttons on display outside of the Civic Center in April. It was the most excited he’d ever been about a political campaign, he said.

“I just feel that this country needs to get their balls back where they should be,” Terry said, “and I think this man will do that.”

Before Trump defeated Clinton in the November general election, though, there was another candidate who excited the people of the Adirondacks just as much, if not more: Bernie Sanders.

The Tri-Lakes region hosted several rallies for the progressive foil to Clinton during the Democratic primary. His signs, bumper stickers and T-shirts were more visible here than even Trump’s. And after the final North Country numbers trickled in the night of the Democratic primary, it was the North Country’s 21st Congressional District that “Felt the Bern” more than any other part of the state.

Sanders won by about 10,000 votes, a wider margin than in any of the state’s 26 other districts, though Clinton took the state as expected. He won 63 percent of the vote. No other district in New York saw Sanders eclipse 60 percent.

People enter the North Elba Town Hall in Lake Placid to vote early on the morning of Election Day, Nov. 8. (Enterprise photo — Antonio Olivero)

But much like the rest of the country, this was the year of the Republican in the North Country. Aside from Democrat Billy Jones winning the seat of departing Republican Janet Duprey in the 115th Assembly district over Republican Franklin County rival Kevin Mulverhill, Republicans romped in the North Country.

Entrenched Republican state representatives such as state. Sen. Betty Little and Assemblyman Dan Stec easily defeated Green Party challengers. And in the region’s biggest race, incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik won a resounding return to the Capitol.

Stefanik was contested by retired Democratic army colonel Mike Derrick and return Green Party challenger Matt Funiciello, a fiery Glens Falls breadbaker. By defeating the second-place finisher Derrick by more than 35 percent of the vote in the North Country’s 21st Congressional District, and by winning all 12 North Country counties, Stefanik made a resounding statement about her political stronghold here.

It’s a GOP foundation that was fortified in the Year of Trump. And as Stefanik and her fellow Republicans celebrated their dominant wins into the early morning hours at the Queensbury Hotel in Glens Falls, it became more and more apparent that the unthinkable was unfolding: At 2:31 a.m. on Nov. 9, the Associated Press declared Donald Trump the next president of the United States.

And who knows what the future holds for Stefanik.

“We see a great future with Elise,” the state Sen. Little said before introducing Stefanik for her victory speech at the Queensbury Hotel, “running for as long as she wants to be our congressperson, till she moves up to something else, of course.”