GLENS FALLS – Northern New York primary voters chose Elise Stefanik of Willsboro, a 29-year-old former staffer to President George W. Bush, to represent the Republican Party in November’s election.
Stefanik defeated Watertown investor Matt Doheny in Tuesday’s voting in New York’s 21st Congressional District. In the Nov. 4 general election she will face Democratic candidate Aaron Woolf, a documentary filmmaker who lives in Elizabethtown and Manhattan, and the Green Party’s Matt Funiciello, a bakery owner from Glen Falls.
Tuesday’s result doesn’t necessarily knock either Republican out of the race because they both have third party ballot access. Stefanik is the chosen candidate of the Conservative Party and Doheny of the Independence Party. In debates, they didn’t say whether they would stop running if they lost the primary.
Registered Republicans voted 61 percent for Stefanik and 39 percent for Doheny, according to nearly complete but unofficial results from the state Board of Elections. Stefanik received 15,292 votes to Doheny’s 9,773 votes, according to the Associated Press. There are about 3,000 absentee ballots.
Stefanik won Franklin County by the widest margin of any county, 72 percent to 28 percent, with all precincts reporting. She won Essex County 69 percent to 30 percent, with eight write-in votes.
Stefanik grew up in the Albany area, where her family owns a plywood business. She went to Harvard University and worked in the Bush White House after graduation. She later coached Rep. Paul Ryan for his vice presidential debate in 2012. Last year she moved to her family’s summer home in Willsboro and started campaigning against Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, who announced this January that he wouldn’t seek re-election.
At Stefanik headquarters
Stefanik’s family, friends and supporters gathered at the Queensbury Hotel in Glens Falls around 7 p.m. One concern lingering in the air was whether negative attack ads aired in the race would affect voter turnout and Stefanik’s chances. The candidate was reportedly still on the campaign trail up until around 9 p.m., when she arrived, just in time for the polls to close.
The crowd watched the results live as they came in from the state Board of Elections office. The results were projected onto a large screen in the corner of the room. Stefanik pulled ahead at around 9:30 p.m.
In those early minutes it was looking good for Stefanik, who at one point had a 2-to-1 lead. One of the key signs she would win was the fact that the results were neck and neck in Jefferson County, where Doheny grew up and lives now.
Doug Hoffman of Lake Placid, a former Conservative Party candidate in the district and an early Stefanik supporter, was there cheering on his choice. He was optimistic early on in the evening but did not rule out a Doheny comeback.
“From the races I ran, I always expected the worst,” Hoffman said.
The worst did not happen for Stefanik. Doheny conceded his defeat at around 10:30 p.m.
“The primary voters have spoken,” Doheny said. “I just hung up the phone with Elise Stefanik. … The result tonight were not reflective of the level of effort and the kindness of all our friends; we’d like to thank them for all their hard work. It didn’t go the way I wanted to, but it certainly wasn’t for a lack of insight and effort by everyone who worked on the campaign.”
Doheny also called out Washington, D.C.-based super PACs, saying the attack ads against him made a difference in the race, which was met with boos from the Stefanik supporters. One PAC in question is Karl Rove’s American Crossroads.
“We were outspent in a meaningful way,” Doheny said. “My opponent had a good night; Karl Rove had a good night.”
After Doheny conceded, several county Republican chairpeople and Stefanik committee members spoke.
“She was bright, she was engaged, and she represented a demographic we have not seen – a millennial,” Franklin County Republican Chairman Ray Scollin, of Saranac Lake, said of his first impression of Stefanik. “Pick the right candidate, and then pick the right team. All of you in the room, that’s who I’m applauding tonight.”
Stefanik gave her victory speech shortly after thanking her supporters.
“We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the hundreds of volunteers across the district,” Stefanik said. “Thank you for putting your faith and trust in me to represent the Republican Party this November. We have the opportunity to unite Republicans and Conservatives, which gives us our best chance to win back our seat this November.”
Stefanik commended Doheny on a hard-fought race and said she would work hard to build bridges to unite Republicans.
“I will work very hard to build the bridges so Republicans are united as we head into this November,” she said. “Republican voters have spoken tonight and honored us with the opportunity to make the case that Washington is broken and in need of new ideas and new leadership.”
She also thanked her parents, who were standing behind her on the podium.
“The greatest blessing in my life was being born to my parents,” she said, turning to her mom Melanie and dad Ken. “Thank you for always believing in me.”
Stefanik said if elected she will focus on creating jobs, advocating for the district’s farmers and working to protect military families and Fort Drum.
“Let’s work hard,” she said, firing up the lively GOP crowd. “We’re going to win this November.”
Republican state Chairman Ed Cox congratulated Stefanik on her win, saying in a press release, “Elise represents the next generation of Republican leaders and is poised to win the general election and go to Congress to push back against the Obama agenda and promote opportunity, economic growth and the repeal of Obamacare.”
Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a less complimentary statement.
“Elise Stefanik’s victory in the Republican primary race to the right proves just how far Karl Rove and the Washington special interests will go to add another loyal rubber stamp to their ranks,” DCCC Executive Director Kelly Ward said. “The Koch Brothers and billionaires like them are behind Elise Stefanik because they know she will stack the deck in favor of the special interests and the ultra-wealthy at the expense of hardworking New York families and seniors.”
The 21st District covers all of Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Warren, Washington and parts of Herkimer and Saratoga counties.