Three NY-21 candidates head to finish line
The race for the NY-21 Congressional District pits a well-funded two-term Republican incumbent against two challengers — one who is a health care advocate and former Democratic county legislator and the other who has been dubbed the “government mechanic.”
After thousands of miles traveled, hands shaken and words spoken by the three candidates — Republican U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik of Willsboro, Democrat Tedra Cobb of Canton and Green Party candidate Lynn Kahn of Schroon Lake — the voters will have their say on Tuesday.
Stefanik is seeking her third two-year term to represent NY-21, which encompasses all of Warren, Washington, Clinton, Essex, Fulton, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lewis, Madison and St. Lawrence counties and portions of Saratoga and Herkimer counties.
Republicans have a large enrollment advantage in NY-21 — about 179,000 to 131,000 for Democrats as of Nov. 1, according to statistics from the New York Board of Elections. In 2016, only about 61 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in the congressional race and Stefanik won with 65 percent of the vote.
The campaign officially began in January 2017, when Democrat Patrick Nelson announced his candidacy. The Democratic field eventually grew to 10 candidates before settling to five by the June primary. Cobb, a former two-term St. Lawrence County legislator and business consultant, won the nomination with 56 percent of the vote.
Cobb barely had time to savor that victory, however, before the National Republican Congressional Committee sent out a press release on Primary Night labeling her “Taxin’ Tedra” over votes she cast in the county legislature.
The race has been nasty at times, with a deluge of negative advertising from the Stefanik campaign, which also used the term “Cuomo clone” to describe Cobb.
Cobb said in a telephone interview it is unfortunate that Stefanik went negative right from the start and ran a campaign of “lies and dishonesty.”
“Elise Stefanik has run a negative campaign, because she can’t talk about where she gets her money — from Wall Street, from lobbyists, from corporations,” Cobb said.
Cobb has said Stefanik is voting for the interests of those donors, instead of talking about her record of voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That vote, had the repeal bill passed, would have caused 64,000 people in the district to lose health coverage and denied coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, Cobb said.
Stefanik also voted to repeal the Clean Power Plan and allow coal companies to dump into rivers, Cobb said.
Cobb said she got into the race because of the health care issue. She started the St. Lawrence County Health Initiative with the help of a grant and the goal of increasing access to health care for the uninsured and under-insured, improving nutrition and fitness and tackling substance abuse.
As a congresswoman, she wants to provide affordable and portable health insurance, which could mean Medicare for all, expansion of Medicare or expansion of the Affordable Care Act, Cobb said.
In July, Cobb’s campaign was rocked by the release of a video secretly recorded at a “Teens for Tedra” event on which the candidate can be heard saying, “I think they should be banned” in response to a question about assault rifles. She told the teens, however, she could not take that position publicly because she would lose if she did.
Since then, Cobb has not said whether she supports an assault weapons ban, but she has called for universal background checks for gun purchases, banning bump stocks and strengthening “red flag” laws to prevent perpetrators of domestic violence from obtaining guns.
Cobb began to pick up some momentum after Labor Day and brought in more money. She outraised Stefanik in two consecutive fundraising reports with the Federal Election Commission. Stefanik still had twice as much cash on hand as Cobb, however.
Cobb has been barnstorming throughout the area in an RV to build enthusiasm, get people to the polls and make her closing argument.
“I believe that we deserve someone who lives where we live, and who understands our needs and challenges and who will passionately work with us and for us and make our lives better. And I have done that for 30 years,” she said.
Cobb said she is proud of the campaign she has run and relationships she has built.
“We have run a campaign with integrity and grit,” she said.
She said she wants to bring a positive message to Washington.
“I will be a hardworking, honest congresswoman,” she said.
Cobb will be campaigning right through Tuesday evening, when she will be at the Best Western in Canton after the polls close to watch the returns come in.
Green Party candidate Kahn has not gotten as much attention as the two major party candidates. During the debates, Kahn found herself in the middle — literally and figuratively — of Cobb and Stefanik, who traded jabs and largely ignored Kahn.
But Kahn said in a phone interview that she got great reaction to her performance in the two debates last week.
“I was the only one that stayed above the fray. I was the only one that didn’t lower myself to engage in ridiculous attacks and counterattacks,” she said. “I’m the only one who engaged in real solutions.”
Kahn, who ran for president in 2016, is a psychologist who specializes in fixing bureaucracies. She has more than 30 years of experience working in the federal government, including 22 years at the Federal Aviation Administration. She also served on the Partnership to Reinvent Government in the 1990s.
Kahn believes the district should work to create more green jobs, particularly in hydrogen fuels, and a whole-government approach is needed to address climate change.
She supports Medicare for all and said she would help pay for it by cutting what she believes is a trillion dollars worth of waste in the federal government. She also believes the federal government should have the ability to take back patents from pharmaceutical companies if drugs are not being made available at a reasonable price, given that taxpayer money is used in the research of these drugs.
Kahn also has called for a large-scale Americorps-style jobs program to help reduce poverty in the North Country. People could be put to work on infrastructure project, such as retrofitting houses to make them more energy-efficient, she said.
Kahn has proposed setting a fair milk price for farmers. It is currently set below what it costs to produce milk, which is causing farms to go out of business and even driving farmers to suicide, she said.
Kahn also has been talking about issues other candidates have not been addressing, including the failure of Congress to exercise its constitutional duty to declare war, people’s right to privacy in their electronic communication, and families being ripped apart because of the family court system. She has called for hearings about foster care and family separations.
Kahn believes people are ready for a third-party candidate, and she criticized Stefanik’s record.
“If she’s running on results, they only exist in a very few spots of this district,” Kahn said.
She said she was about to cross the $5,000 mark in donations, which would require her to file a report with the Federal Election Commission. Kahn also cited her network of support, including farmers and veterans.
“I think you’re all underestimating the word-of-mouth support for me,” she said.
Kahn will be watching the polls at the Adirondack Pub and Brewery at 33 Canada St. in Lake George.
Stefanik said in a phone interview that she believes this election is about a choice.
“This is the culmination of a Democratic campaign that has no policy proposals. I’m proud to run on my record of results and to talk about these contrasts,” she said.
Stefanik has consistently criticized Cobb for lacking policy specifics. Stefanik said Cobb’s debate performance was a “disaster,” and said her Democratic opponent did not provide details and struggled to answer questions.
Stefanik said Cobb would not support the current U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement and would seek to cut military spending. Stefanik supports the trade pact and opposes cuts to military spending. Stefanik also opposes government-run health care.
Stefanik has hammered Cobb on the gun issue.
“She struggles consistently to talk about Second Amendment issues. I am proud to have an ‘A’ rating from the NRA and her position on the assault weapons ban has been a disaster from start to finish,” she said.
Stefanik defended the negative campaigning, saying that Cobb has been attacking her since she got into the race.
If re-elected, Stefanik said she would like to work on bipartisan solutions on health care. She has proposed expanding coverage to allow two fully covered primary care visits per year instead of one. She also proposes that employers be allowed to join in buying health care and allow for purchase of health insurance across state lines.
Stefanik said she would like to continue to work to address prescription drug prices. Legislation signed into law by President Donald Trump requires pharmacists to make more information available to consumers about alternative lower-cost drugs.
She said Congress needs to finish the Farm Bill, and she would like to see an agricultural visas program created.
Stefanik said she thinks the battle over which party controls the House is a toss-up.
“I think it’s going to be close either way,” she said.
Even if Democrats take control of the House and she winds up in the minority, she will continue to get results, she said. She worked with President Barack Obama on legislation to repeal the mandate that required employers with more than 200 full-time workers to automatically enroll new employees in an employer-sponsored plan, she said, and she worked on a bipartisan bill to allow college students to access Pell grants year-round.
Stefanik was attending a Halloween parade in Warrensburg on Tuesday and paid a visit to Glens Falls mainstay Poopie’s Diner on Thursday. On Election Night, she will be at The Queensbury Hotel with other Republicans.
“We are focusing on getting out the vote,” she said. “This is not a get-out-the-vote operation that we’ve built in the last month. We’ve built this over four years.”