Considering the first candidate jumped into the race as the new Congress was being sworn in almost two years ago, it’s been a long campaign in northern New York’s 21st district. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley recaps some of the highlights as Election Day finally approaches.
Patrick Nelson was the first Democrat to come forward in January 2017 to challenge two-term Republican Elise Stefanik. The field of Democrats would eventually peak at 10 in February 2018 when cable news host Dylan Ratigan joined the race ahead of the June 26th primary. By the time voters went to the polls five remained. At the time, SUNY Plattsburgh Professor of Political Science Harvey Schantz wasn’t surprised that half the field had dropped out or decided to seek other offices. “You can see a pattern of the candidates dropping out as they realize their opportunities are limited or seeing that there’s another race that they can run in.”
Numerous debates were held during the primary and even though she had a primary opponent, Stefanik never participated and offered a standard response. “I feel confident but I’m going to focus on doing my job because that’s why they voted for me.”
Tedra Cobb won the Democratic primary. The former St. Lawrence County legislator from Canton received 55 percent of the vote across the 12-county district. “We’re talking about the things that matter to people in Northern New York. So I feel strong about our message.”
The general election campaign immediately began with the incumbent welcoming Cobb and issuing an ad titled “Taxin Tedra.” Reviewing the campaign now, Schantz says it reflects the national scene. “And the national conversation has been very polarizing. The national conversation has led to hurt feelings between Democrats and Republicans. And that has played out at this level as well where the Democratic and Republican candidates are reflecting the animosity between the two major parties that we see nationally. And Lynn Kahn, the Green Party candidate, is attempting to benefit from the animosity that the two major candidates are showing toward each other.”
The trio agreed to three debates this fall. The first was at Mountain Lake PBS in late October where during a discussion on heath care the dynamics Schantz describes played out. “My Democratic opponent wants more government-run health care. She changes her mind in terms of Medicare-for-All. Sometimes she wants it. Sometimes she doesn’t.”
Moderator Thom Hallock: “And Miss Cobb.”
Democrat Tedra Cobb: “I’m going to talk about a policy solution and one of those is to not take a dime from insurance companies or pharmaceutical companies. That is unlike my Republican opponent.”
Moderator Thom Hallock: “Miss Kahn.”
Green Party Candidate Lynn Kahn: “If you listen to these competitors all you’re going to hear is how the other party hasn’t been helpful and in fact neither of them have been helpful. Same two parties same bad results.”
Yet after the Oct. 23rd debate, each candidate was confident. Incumbent Stefanik expects another win. “I’ve worked hard going back to my first campaign and every day I’ve been in office. So I’m excited about my record. I’m excited about the cross-party support Republicans, Democrats and Independents as we are headed towards Election Day. Energy is on our side and I‘m confident that we will win on Election Day.”
Cobb: “I feel strong. I think that we finally are holding Elise Stefanik accountable for her record and how she has voted in ways that have harmed the district.”
Kahn is from Schroon Lake: “I think everybody’s tired of all that fighting and standing between them I really felt it. It was like can you talk about the issues and not just each other? And I think that’s what a lot of voters are feeling and they’re happy to discover that there really is a third choice.”
The 21st District is one of the largest geographically in the eastern U.S., covering Clinton, Franklin, St. Lawrence, Jefferson, Lewis, Hamilton, Essex, Warren, Washington, Fulton and parts of Saratoga and Herkimer counties.