Home advantage was minimal against Cobb
Congratulations to Tedra Cobb of Canton, who on Tuesday was elected the Democratic Party nominee in New York’s 21st Congressional District, which spans the North Country. She killed it in our area, just like she did almost everywhere else in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.
As primary day opened, we had no idea who would win this five-way race and guessed it would be close. As the results trickled in that night, we were amazed to see Cobb run away with it, and by such a huge margin.
In hindsight, should we have been so surprised? Here in Saranac Lake, we could point to more Democrats supporting Cobb than any other candidate, even though Emily Martz lives here and Dylan Ratigan grew up here. Over the last year, these people have been wearing Tedra Cobb pins on their outer clothing in public, the same way locals wear Winter Carnival buttons, and they make a point of mentioning her in conversation.
But we also saw plenty of people showing support for the other candidates, and we don’t like to predict elections.
But look at Essex County. Three of the five candidates are from there: Martz, Ratigan and Katie Wilson of Keene. It also ended up with the highest voter turnout rate in the entire 12-county district — tied with Hamilton County at 25 percent of active enrolled Democrats. You might think that extra turnout is because those three candidates rallied their local supporters to get out and vote for them, and maybe it is — but nevertheless, Cobb got 43 percent of the votes in Essex County. That’s less than she got most places — she averaged 56 percent — but it’s still more than twice as much as Katie Wilson’s second-place showing of 21 percent. It’s still a landslide.
The hometown advantage was minimal. As an example, Wilson won her home hamlet of Keene but didn’t even win the neighboring hamlet of Keene Valley. (Martz beat her by one vote.) Wilson did get the most votes in the town of Keene, of which her brother is supervisor, and Ratigan took his ancestral home of Minerva, but Cobb took the county’s other 17 towns.
Franklin County has roughly 50 percent more Democrats (9,734) than Essex (6,686), but it actually had fewer show up to vote. Its turnout rate was about the same as that of the district as a whole, a bit under 16 percent.
That seems low, but is it? It’s about the same rate as the last congressional primary here, a Republican one in June 2014, between then-newcomer Elise Stefanik and third-time candidate Matt Doheny. That one also ended in a runaway. Doheny said he knocked on 2,200 doors, and he was endorsed by state senators, Assembly members and daily newspapers — but Stefanik had advertising paid for by national GOP powers such as Karl Rove’s super-PAC. She won more than 60-40.
There were reasons to think the turnout rate would be higher this time. There were five candidates to get out the vote, and four of them had been actively campaigning for more than a year. (Ratigan joined the race in February). Unlike Stefanik, four of them had spotless local-residency bona fides. (Ratigan moved back home to run, as Mike Derrick had for the 2016 election.) Ratigan had the advantage of being a nationally known celebrity crusader. They had hundreds of volunteers. (Cobb had more than 900.) And with all that honing, they ended up being good candidates: articulate, knowledgeable, grounded, friendly and hard-working with interesting ideas and approaches.
But still, they couldn’t draw more than one out of every seven registered Democrats to the polls.
It’s too bad we have to accept that kind of apathy as normal. We’re living in an age when people don’t read news like they used to, which leaves masses of people not knowing or caring what’s going on around them unless it gets unavoidably loud and simplistic.
Nevertheless, this race had a clear winner, and it’s hard to argue that greater turnout would have changed that.
(Correction: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly said Cobb “opened a storefront office in downtown Saranac Lake.” Andrea Audi, former co-director of Cobb’s campaign, says that has been the office of her business, Cedar Circle LLC, since November. The confusion arose because the storefront at 85 Main St. has no prominent sign for Cedar Circle and had a large display for Cobb in recent weeks, and because Audi hosted volunteer meetings and phone banking there.)
By the #s: TURNOUT
Percentage of active enrolled Democrats who voted in Tuesday’s primary in New York’s 21st Congressional District
Where % Votes
Essex 24.7 1,650
Hamilton 24.7 218
Warren 19.4 2,079
Washington 17.8 1,575
St. Lawrence 17.6 3,775
Franklin 15.5 1,511
Saratoga 14.9 2,182
Clinton 14.5 2,480
Herkimer 13.2 147
Jefferson 11.6 1,763
Fulton 9.6 719
Lewis 9.2 376
TOTAL 15.7 18,475