Democrat Holden declares campaign for Congress

Steven W. Holden Sr. (Photo provided)

There’s now a Democrat in the race for New York’s 21st Congressional District, one who may be familiar to voters in Watertown and the 24th Congressional District — Steven W. Holden Sr.

Holden, who ran for Congress last year against Rep. Claudia Tenney, recently restarted his campaign with his sights for 2024 set on the north country seat occupied by Rep. Elise Stefanik.

Holden has been working with the Pentagon for the last few months on the commission to rename Army bases that currently bear the name of Confederate Army figures. He said he feels a connection with the 21st District, which covers Fort Drum and eastern Jefferson County, the North Country and parts of the Capital Region.

“I grew up in the country, on a dairy farm in Oklahoma,” he said. “I’m a retired lieutenant colonel, I can relate to the veterans across the district.”

Holden served eight combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and after retirement took to running his own small business for a time. He’s described himself as a “practical progressive” and supports gun regulations while maintaining the Second Amendment. He also supports Medicare for All, eliminating student loan debt, taking swift action to cut carbon emissions and protect the environment, and a rash of other progressive policies.

Holden also said he views American democracy as under attack, and is firmly opposed to any efforts to disconnect former President Donald Trump from the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack.

“My opponent has sided with Marjorie Taylor Greene, wanting to strike President Trump’s impeachments from the congressional record,” he said of Stefanik. “That’s not exactly standing for the rule of law.”

Holden said he intends to draw a strong contrast between himself and Stefanik, who is one of the most senior Republican members of the House, a prolific fundraiser who carried 59% of the vote in her previous run for office. He compared his humble upbringings to her youth in the Albany area, attending a private preparatory academy, going on to Harvard and then working in the administration of President George W. Bush.

“It’s a big contrast,” Holden said. “When she was in her 20s, she was working in the Bush administration, working on the policies I was living in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re going to draw a contrast, where she is the picture of privilege, everything handed to her, while I grew up on a dairy farm and went to serve my country, for over 20 years, in some of the most inhospitable and dangerous places in the world.”

He also said her position as a leader in the House, with Republicans taking the helm in that chamber, has given him plenty of opportunities to tie Stefanik directly to the divisiveness and partisan politics dominating the national conversation. Holden referenced the recent partisan battles over the annual defense spending package, which saw Republicans support measures that would weaken abortion access for soldiers, limit diversity and equity programs and end gender-affirming health care for transgender soldiers.

“People look at the dysfunction there, the fact that we nearly defaulted on the U.S. economy, almost sent the world economy into a tailspin, and the shenanigans with Speaker McCarthy’s election,” Holden said. “And now we see with the (National Defense Authorization Act), that was some of the nastiest stuff ever.”

Holden’s own work on the Department of Defense’s Naming Commission, renaming bases that commemorate the Confederate States of America or any person who served with their army, was put on the chopping block by Republican House members in the NDAA as well, with support from Stefanik.

“She has to realize she’s representing an area with the largest U.S. Army installation in the Northeast, and that units of the New York National Guard trace their roots to the Civil War,” he said. “It’s this tone deafness that needs to be shown to people.”

Holden said he’s more prepared for this congressional race than he was for his previous race against Tenney. That race only started once the congressional district maps were finalized after a protracted legal fight, and Holden moved later still from running in the Syracuse-focused district to NY-24.

Now he said he’s completely refreshed his campaign staff, is making early inroads with local Democratic leadership, and is seeing a more coordinated effort from Democrats at the top of the state party after the many failures of that level in 2022.

He also said the fact that the president will also be on the ballot should give downballot Democrats a boost in 2024.

Holden currently lives outside NY-21 but said he is planning to move into the district shortly to be closer to family and Fort Drum.

Stefanik’s campaign responded quickly to Holden’s campaign on Thursday with a press release. The congresswoman’s campaign used many of the terms they’ve applied to every Democrat to oppose her in recent elections.

“The failed far-left Democrat candidate who lost to Claudia Tenney by a 30-point margin is now desperately running for a seat that he has no ties to and exactly zero chance of winning, and everyone knows it,” said Alex deGrasse, the congresswoman’s adviser.

DeGrasse pointed to the campaign finance reporting issues that Holden experienced both in 2022 and already in this election cycle. Last year, Holden was blasted by his opponent for filing a campaign finance report late. The issue was allegedly due to a system error and the report eventually appeared publicly, but the FEC sent his campaign a notice threatening legal action should the document not be filed in a timely manner.

That’s happened again this year, with Holden receiving another FEC warning on May 3 for failing to file a quarterly financial report for his campaign, which was still active with money from 2022. Holden said on Tuesday that he plans to file a financial disclosure for the upcoming deadline in November.

The state GOP took notice of Holden’s campaign announcement, with chairman of the state Republican Committee Ed Cox including a statement with the Stefanik campaign’s release.

“No Democrat stands a chance against Elise, especially those who praise far left socialists like Bernie Sanders and AOC, promise to infringe on our Constitutional rights like the Second Amendment and lost in previous cycles by 30 points,” Cox said. “Elise will once again secure a historic win next November and lead Republicans to victory in New York.”

The other Republican in the race for Congress in NY-21, Saratoga County native Jill Lochner, said in a text message Thursday that she welcomes Holden to the race and is looking forward to a robust campaign.

“A functioning democracy works best when the voters have many options,” she said. “It is clear that NY-21 will be won by a Republican, but I do wish him the best.”

There’s still plenty of time for the contours of this congressional race, which in 2022 saw a number of Democratic candidates declare and drop out, to change in the coming months. Holden remains the only Democrat in the race, but Stefanik and Lochner are set to face off in a June primary in 2024, with the winner of that likely to go on to face the Democrat in November.


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