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Cobb has no primary rivals so far

Democratic congressional candidate Tedra Cobb speaks in July at Saranac Lake’s Riverside Park at a Lights for Liberty vigil protesting conditions at U.S. immigration detention centers for children and adults. (Provided photo — Jim Abendroth, Adirondack Voters for Change)

November 2020 is still a long way away, and when it arrives, the presidential race is likely to draw much of the attention. But it will also bring what is increasingly likely to be a rematch between incumbent U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, and Democratic candidate Tedra Cobb, Canton.

In 2018, the Democratic primary was a five-person race, which Cobb won with 56 percent of the vote. This cycle, it looks like Cobb may run without Democratic opposition.

“The congressional race is pretty well identified,” said St. Lawrence County Democratic Chairman Mark Bellardini, pointing to Cobb’s success in winning over half the votes in the primary last year. “She got two to three times the votes of the other people who were in.”

No other candidates have registered with the Federal Election Commission, and it does not look like anyone plans to at the moment, although there is still time. The Times reached out to all the Democratic committee chairs in the 12 counties that make up New York’s 21st Congressional District. Of these, eight responded, and none of them knew of anyone besides Cobb who planned on running in the congressional race.

Stefanik won in 2018 by 14.9 percentage points over Cobb, a wider margin of victory than any other Republican representative in New York state. The most recent FEC filings show Stefanik already has a lead in fundraising over Cobb — she raised $518,000 in the second quarter to $356,595.22 raised by the Democrat.

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik speaks in July. (Provided photo — Sydney Shaefer, Watertown Daily Times)

But Cobb, who said she would run again on election night in 2018 and officially announced earlier this year, thinks she has a shot at victory. Part of her optimism is the lack of any primary challengers so far.

“That’s fantastic, because I can focus on getting people to know me better,” she said on Thursday.

Cobb plans to build on her 2018 run, which was characterized by face-to-face meetings across the district.

“You have to prove who you are,” Cobb said. “We ran with integrity; we ran with grit; we ran hard.”

Cobb is also clear she is running against Stefanik’s record — on health care, the environment and other issues where Cobb feels that Stefanik’s votes have hurt residents of the North Country.

“Part of the path to victory is talking about those issues,” Cobb said. “People are frustrated, Washington is clearly a mess … and Elise Stefanik is clearly part of that.”

Stefanik has defended her record and attacked Cobb, updating last year’s nickname — “Taxin’ Tedra” — to simply #TaxinT, tweeting that the name “fits like a (glove emoji).”

“And #NY21 voters know it. Can’t wait for 2020 redux! Reminding voters of taxes, taxes, more taxes & gun bans from the one and only #TaxinT,” she tweeted after the campaigns released their fundraising totals for the quarter.

“In 2018, Taxin’ Tedra Cobb was soundly rejected by North Country voters and her own party leaders in Washington and Albany after running the worst congressional campaign of the year,” wrote Stefanik campaign spokesman Lenny Alcivar. “In 2020, Taxin’ Tedra has already doubled down on her support for issuing drivers licenses to illegal immigrants, opposing Stefanik’s lead on East Coast missile defense and supporting a trillion dollar tax cut.”

Cobb said she supported placing the East Coast Missile Defense project at Fort Drum if the Pentagon deems it necessary.

Asked about the numbers — how, in a district she lost by 15 points, Cobb thinks she can find a majority of votes — Cobb said it is early in the campaign to discuss the nitty gritty.

“That we’ll keep looking at,” she said. At this point, “It’s about making those relationships.”

In the meantime, she plans to keep traveling and highlighting what she sees as Stefanik’s failures.

“She voted to support a taxpayer-funded lawsuit against people with pre-existing conditions,” Cobb said. “She says she cares about Social Security, she says she cares about the environment, and yet …”

Stefanik did vote against blocking such a lawsuit in an amendment to H.R. 3055, the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. Amendment No. 89 would prevent the federal government from spending money on any lawsuit to rule the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. The vote on the amendment was 238-194, with four Republicans voting for it and the rest, including Stefanik, opposing it.

Stefanik has said her record shows support for health care in the district.

“Congresswoman Stefanik has delivered over $27 million to support rural hospitals, was the leading national voice on funding community health centers, and wrote the biggest fix to Obamacare signed into law,” Alcivar wrote. “As health care premiums and deductibles continue to skyrocket for North Country families, Tedra Cobb has doubled down on her support for expanding Obamacare into the government take over of single payer health care.”

Last year Cobb said she was open to a variety of options on medical care, including single-payer health care or an expansion of the Affordable Care Act. This year, she said that she supports a public option, letting people buy into government-run insurance like Medicare or keep their private insurance as they choose. She has also updated some of her other positions — she told the Times that she is against an assault weapons ban after never fully clarifying her position in 2018.

“I don’t think that is going to be the way to prevent the gun violence epidemic,” she said.

Instead, she said she supports universal background checks and expanded mental health care.

“This district has the highest suicide rate in the state,” Cobb said. “We don’t have enough counselors; we don’t have enough insurance providers who cover mental health.”

There is one issue Cobb does not want to discuss at the moment — whether the House should impeach President Donald Trump.

“I am running against Elise Stefanik,” she said. “My goal is to represent the people in NY-21.”

Without any Democratic rivals apparent, Cobb is making connections and working with Democrats inside and outside the district. Inside, she is working with some candidates for local office, including some of her prior rivals in the last primary. She is also keeping in touch with national Democratic organizations.

“I have always communicated with them and will continue to do that,” Cobb said. “At the end, we’ll be running our own race.”

And while some things have changed since she ran in 2018, her main reason for running — Stefanik’s votes on the Affordable Care Act and a belief in accessible health care — remain the same.

“That’s why I got into the race,” Cobb said. “And that’s why I continue to run.”