After NY-21 primary, eyes move to general election

Matt Castelli is seen at Riverside Park in Saranac Lake on May 22 during a campaign stop. He won the Democratic nomination to take on U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, in November. ​ (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

After Matt Castelli won the Democratic nomination in the race for the NY-21 House seat in a primary election on Tuesday, Castelli described a long road ahead to the Nov. 8 election.

On Nov. 8, Castelli will be running against North Country Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican candidate seeking a fifth term in office.

“It will not be easy. They will be relentless, but we will be tireless,” Castelli said to a crowd at the Lawrence Street Tavern in Glens Falls on election night, according to the Glens Falls Post Star. “They will have unlimited resources, but we will have unlimited will. They will get vicious. They will play dirty. They will throw everything they have at us and to that, I say ‘bring it on,’ because I can take it. We can take it. Our mission is clear. Our determination unwavering and with our hearts full of hope, we cannot lose.”

Stefanik’s campaign also had strong words on election night.

“Stefanik’s campaign welcomes far-left downstate Democrat Matt Castelli from Poughkeepsie to the NY-21 general election and looks forward to defeating him by a historic margin in November,” an email statement from her campaign reads. “Stefanik has a 10:1 cash-on-hand advantage and has been endorsed by hundreds of local Republican, Democrat and independent elected officials.”

Stefanik, who in four terms in Congress has risen to become the third-highest ranking Republican in the House, has endorsements from labor unions, including numerous law enforcement unions; newspapers ranging from the Daily Gazette to the New York Post; and the state Conservative Party.

Castelli has endorsements from Democratic leaders, such as former NY-21 Congressman Bill Owens, all district county Democratic committees and numerous labor unions.

After redistricting, NY-21 has gained a larger Republican area, Stefanik’s campaign pointed out in a statement.

But Castelli is confident in his chances of winning in November.

While he was knocking on doors for this primary, he said he met countless Republicans and independents who pledged their support for him in the general election.

“We’re the strongest challenger she’s ever faced,” Castelli said of Stefanik. “She’s changed on voters. … I hear from Republicans and independents all the time who feel that they don’t have a home in her extremist wing of the Republican Party.”

Castelli will also appear on the Moderate Party line, which he created to appeal to Republican and independent voters in the general election.

He believes some Republicans have been “turned off” by Stefanik’s defense of the Jan. 6 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol, questioning of the validity of the 2020 election, echoing of white supremacist conspiracies, feuding with the FBI for retrieving classified documents in a search of former president Donald Trump’s Florida residence and endorsement of House candidate Carl Paladino, who lost his primary bid on Tuesday after years of numerous bigoted remarks.

Castelli believes a significant portion of GOP and independent voters now see Stefanik as an “opportunist and an extremist” — enough to give him an edge.

He feels Stefanik has failed her district and positioned her as someone who is working for her career instead of her district.

“As a CIA officer, I spent my career combating terrorism and dangerous extremism overseas,” Castelli said in a statement. “I entered this race because Elise Stefanik continues to threaten our country by embracing extremism, attacking law enforcement and putting her self-interest ahead of the needs of our communities.”

Being a moderate, to Castelli, means that he sees people as having more in common that what divides them. He believes most people are moderates and are tired of “distractions.”

Stefanik’s campaign referenced a recent Daily Mail article which details — based on information from unnamed sources of former colleagues — allegations that Castelli would drink with coworkers and go back to the office and that he slept with at least three female colleagues in the prayer room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

“In recent days, Matt Castelli has been embroiled in controversy after several former colleagues from the National Security Council, including a current Biden administration official, confirmed that Castelli would drink heavily and engage in inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace while on the clock and often collected overtime pay while doing so,” an email from the Stefanik campaign reads.

Castelli called the anonymous claims made about him in a Daily Mail article “garbage and lies,” and declined to say much more on the matter.


Stefanik’s campaign claimed in its statement that Castelli “backs an assault weapons ban.”

“I’m not quite sure who she is talking about,” Castelli said. “She may have me confused with my primary opponent that I just defeated.”

Castelli said he would not have supported the “Assault Weapons Ban of 2022” bill that recently passed the House, because he believes “it does more harm than good in this moment of urgency.”

Castelli has said he would protect the rights of the Second Amendment if elected, but that he wants to reduce gun violence by looking at precise gun legislation to keep any firearm out of the hands of people who might use them for harm.

Support of an assault weapons ban was a major talking point in Democratic candidate Tedra Cobb’s 2018 and 2020 attempts to unseat Stefanik, and may have contributed to her losses in both elections. In interviews, Castelli has dodged answering the assault weapons ban question directly, but on Wednesday, gave his most clear answer so far.

Banning assault weapons, he said, risks driving a “wedge” through the “coalition” of Republicans, Democrats and independents he says is needed to address gun violence.

After all, he told the Post Star, “an assault weapons ban is not likely to pass Congress.”

Castelli joined #MarchForOurLives events in Potsdam and Saranac Lake after mass shootings at a grocery store in Buffalo and a school in Uvalde, Texas. This gun control-supporting organization advocates for assault weapons bans, among other gun legislation.

Castelli supports legislation for “robust” background checks and red flag laws, which Stefanik does not support strong versions of.

“Far-left,” “rubber stamp,” “carpetbagger”

Stefanik’s campaign has branded Castelli as a “carpetbagger” — an outsider who runs in a district where they haven’t lived.

Castelli was born and raised in Poughkeepsie, attended Siena College in Albany and lived in Washington D.C. during his career. He says he’s an “upstate New York guy.” But he didn’t live in the North Country until August 2021, according to Stefanik’s campaign. He moved into an apartment in Glens Falls this spring, according to the Castelli campaign.

“According to the Saratoga County and Dutchess County Board of Elections, Castelli voted for the first time in New York state for the 2021 general election,” Stefanik’s campaign said in an email.

Castelli said he served his country in the CIA and NSC, which kept him away from the North County. He said he had wanted to move here for a while, but was delayed by the pandemic. He said he “relocated” to the North Country during the coronavirus pandemic and chose it as his home. When he moved here, he said he had not planned on running for Congress, but after Stefanik’s actions on Jan. 6, 2021, he started up a campaign.

Stefanik was also branded as a “carpetbagger” in her first race for her seat, as Democrats accused her of exaggerating her North Country cred.

Stefanik grew up near Albany and her parents had a seasonal home in Willsboro they summered at every year. She went to Harvard in Massachusetts, lived in Washington D.C. when she worked in the George W. Bush White House and bought a home in Willsboro the year before she ran for Congress. Stefanik now lives in Schuylerville.

A press release from Stefanik’s campaign said Castelli “would be a rubber stamp for Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi.”

Asked about this, Castelli laughed.

“I’m not going to support Nancy Pelosi for another term as speaker, and I’ve been critical of President Biden on a host of issues. When I say ‘country before party,’ I mean it.”

Castelli has blamed Biden for being too slow to address rising inflation and in his primary win press release, said he is “unafraid to criticize the Biden administration and other Democrats, particularly on issues of national security and defending law enforcement.”

After the primary, he said growing up with a Republican mother and Democratic father, he believes, makes him “a different kind of Democrat than the district has previously nominated.”

He said he thinks Stefanik castigating law enforcement for investigating former president Donald Trump means she is not putting country before party.

Castelli pledged to hold town halls in the next few months, travel to every corner of the district and participate in any debates that are planned.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today