Surrounded by family members and G.O.P. party officials, Elise Stefanik reacts to the adulation of supporters moments after her arrival at her election-night party Tuesday night June 24. Stefanik won the Republican Primary election by a commanding margin over Matt Doheny. If elected in November, Stefanik will be the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress. At her right is Queensbury Supervisor-at-large Mark Westcott, who worked on her campaign. Essex County G.O.P. Chairman Ron Jackson (rear, right) said moments earlier he supported her because of her experience, abilities and attributes.
Elise Stefanik has handily defeated Matt Doheny in securing the Republican nomination to replace outgoing Congressman Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh) in the race for New York’s 21st Congressional District.
If elected in November, she will be the youngest woman in history to be elected to the U.S. Congress. She is 29 years old.
Once returns started coming in shortly after polls closed Tuesday night at 9 p.m. — data from polling places was zipped off to each county, verified by officials and uploaded onto their respective websites — Doheny, an investment banker from Watertown, never regained his footing.
Stefanik took an early lead over Doheny as returns from Fulton County started coming in at roughly a 2-to-1 clip.
St. Lawrence, Lewis, Essex, Clinton, Hamilton, Warren — even Jefferson, Doheny’s home county — all went to Stefanik.
By 10:30 p.m, with 47 percent of precincts reporting, Stefanik led Doheny 60 to 40 percent, topping her opponent in each of the 12 counties constituting the district.
Doheny called Stefanik to concede at 10:33 p.m as AP results showed Stefanik with 11,019, or 60 percent, to Doheny’s 7,339. Locally Stefanik bested Doheny 1,428 to 676 in Clinton County; 1,144 to 502 in Essex County; 794 to 311 in Franklin County; 309 to 239 in Hamilton County; 1,872 to 933 in Warren County and 1,745 to 1,056 in Saratoga County.
At about 11 p.m., Stefanik basked in adulation from her supporters gathered at the Queensbury Hotel in Glens Falls.
“You believed from the very beginning, that we deserve a representative in Washington with new ideas, fresh energy, and an independent approach in order to shake up a failed Washington,” she said to the 120-or-so citizens at her election-night party. “We now have an opportunity to unite Republicans and Conservatives, which gives us the best chance to win back this seat in November.”
The candidate also thanked Doheny for bringing new solutions to the table, while promising to “build bridges” to unite Republicans after a contentious Primary battle.
Queensbury Supervisor-at-Large Mark Westcott, who was Congressman Chris Gibson’s campaign manager several years ago, unofficially worked on Stefanik’s campaign, which included making about 2,500 phone calls on her behalf, he said. Westcott added he was surprised by the wide margin of victory.
“It’s clear that people are looking for an optimistic, enthusiastic, positive candidate with fresh ideas,” he said. “I believe she represents the ‘new vanguard’ of Republican politics — she’ll bring women and young people back into the party.”
Essex County G.O.P Chairman Ron Jackson also praised Stefanik’s approach and her grasp of the issues.
“It was clear from the beginning that Elise was our dream candidate — she has a squeaky-clean resume, she’s an excellent speaker and a hard worker,” he said. ”She ran a clean, positive campaign and the voters were receptive to it.”
Despite a surge of last-minute endorsements —including from Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, State Senator Joseph Griffo and dueling endorsements from the Glens Falls Post-Star and the Watertown Daily Times (Senator Betty Little abstained) — Doheny failed to gain momentum in his fourth attempt to land the seat.
“Karl Rove had a good night,” he said during his concession speech, referring to the former Bush operative whose super PAC, American Crossroads, poured money into the race as it reached its final hurdles.
“It’s just the reality,” he said.
Stefanik started the morning at dawn, encouraging prison personnel to vote during a shift change at Dannemora, according to a post on Twitter.
Later, under a steady drizzle, she cast her ballot at the Willsboro Visitors Center in her adopted hometown in Essex County shortly after polls opened at noon.
“I feel good about where we are in the race,” she told the Valley News before entering a Chevrolet Suburban that ferried her southward to meetings in Ballston Spa, Greenwich, Queensbury and her election night headquarters at the Queensbury Hotel in Glens Falls.
Doheny voted at the Emma Flower Taylor Fire Station in Watertown before his party at the Savory Downtown in Watertown.
That afternoon, campaign spokesman David Catalfamo sounded weary when reached by phone.
“We’re working away,” he said. “You gotta be optimistic. We feel like voters have embraced Matt and they’ve rejected the negative campaigning of Elise Stefanik.”
Catalfamo said a telephone hall on Monday had buoyed the campaign’s spirits:
Almost 400 people wanted to call back, indicative of the enthusiasm coming in at the last days of the campaign, he said.
Doheny headed into the weekend facing a discouraging poll: An automated poll conducted by Republican firm Harper Polling released showed Stefanik leading Doheny by 8 percentage points ahead of primary, 45 percent to Doheny’s 37.
The poll, which measured the favorability of both candidates among 498 likely Republican voters, was conducted last weekend after Doheny spent much of the month facing a barrage of negative advertising from American Crossroads, the super PAC co-founded by Karl Rove that dropped $770,000 on a flurry of attack ads against Doheny across the region’s largest media markets.
It marked the first that the super PAC, which spent over $300 million during the last election cycle, had entered the fray in a Republican primary.
While Stefanik, a former White House aide who turns 30 next week, entered the race last August, the race received scant attention until incumbent Bill Owens announced his retirement in January.
That blew the roof off of the race and paved the way for Doheny, who narrowly lost twice to Owens in 2010 and 2012, to enter the fray, a development that disrupted Stefanik’s methodological campaign that saw her quietly racking up endorsements from GOP powerbrokers across the expansive district before Owens announced he wouldn’t seek re-election for personal reasons.
“It was like David versus Goliath,” said Willsboro Town Supervisor Shaun Gillilland, an early Stefanik booster who acted as one of her Essex County point-people. “This is a great day for the district, Essex County and Willsboro — new vision, new generation, a new future for our representation in Congress.”
In later months, the race became increasingly contemptuous despite the candidates running parallel on most issues:
Both campaigned against the Affordable Care Act, for tax cuts for small businesses and easing what they said were stifling federal regulatory burdens. Both agreed to preserve the Second Amendment and ensure Fort Drum remained open, funded and that the base’s 10th Mountain Division would remain a critical part of the modern American military.
Due to the razor-thin policy differences — they eventually drifted apart on the minimum wage and infrastructure funding — the candidates instead sought to differentiate themselves by wedge issues, namely residency.
Doheny, who was raised in St. Alexandria Bay and lives in Watertown, branded himself as the only candidate who was truly from the North Country.
Stefanik, a Harvard graduate who grew up in Albany County and moved to Willsboro last June, positioned herself as the vanguard of a new generation and Doheny as a three-time loser who had chance to “take back” what had historically been a Republican district since the Civil War, but failed to do so.
Throughout the race, despite the grenades lobbed by outside groups, Stefanik distanced herself from the negative attacks, maintaining she could not control outside spending on her behalf and emphasized that she was running a positive, issues-focused campaign.
Doheny never found steady footing to combat the attacks.
Friday’s poll showed high unfavorables for the candidate.
Asked about their opinion of the investment banker, 39 percent of voters polled said they had a favorable opinion, 40 percent said they had an unfavorable opinion and 20 percent said they were not sure.
Forty-nine percent of voters polled said they had a favorable opinion of Stefanik; 29 percent said they had an unfavorable opinion and 22 percent said they were not sure.
Reception on Twitter, typically anemic during the campaign, was only slightly more active throughout Tuesday with supporters from each side extolling their candidate and wishing warm wishes.
“I probably shouldn’t care so much about a New York primary, but @EliseStefanik is that great of a candidate really rooting for her,” tweeted John Tapley, a self-described “Political Badass Striving for a Better America.”
The race elicited national attention this spring as one crucial for future control of the House.
Democrats need 17 seats to regain control of the House this November and entered the race this spring with email blasts painting both GOP candidates as enemies of the middle class, women and senior citizens, hinging them to the Ryan Budget, a blueprint would seek to erase the deficit with deep cuts in domestic spending.
In the first of a pair of debates in late-May, both candidates said they wouldn’t support the plan in its current form.
Stefanik had previously worked as a debate prep coach for Ryan’s bid for the Vice Presidency in 2012. The Wisconsin Congressman also attended a fundraiser in Watertown for her in early June.
“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,” said DCCC Executive Director Kelly Ward in an email statement shortly after Doheny conceded.
“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.”
“With a policymaking background and experience at her family’s small business, Stefanik promises to bring a new and dynamic approach to Congress and to hold this seat for years to come,” said the National Republican Congressional Committee in a statement.
“I am proud Elise Stefanik calls the town of Willsboro and Essex County her home,” said Win Belanger, GOP Vice Chair for Essex County. “By her winning this Primary we have brought some unity to our party moving forward to win back this Republican seat in November.”
Belanger, who joined Stefanik in Glens Falls, cited continuous rounds of applause as the now-presumptive nominee stated her goals and objectives in an often-emotional victory speech in which she thanked her parents and brother Matt.
In the first debate on June 2, both candidates hedged on if they would drop out if they did not win the primary.
Stefanik has the endorsement of the Conservative Party, awarded after a contentious decision in April that split the state party committees, and will appear on their ballot line in November.
As of press time, it remains unclear if Doheny will continue on the Independent Line or attempt to pursue another path to victory this fall.
Stefanik will now have the task of reunited a party that has been torn apart during the four-month internecine battle and tacking back towards the center in order to appeal to moderates in the district, one with a disparate array of industries and population clusters with varying needs, from agriculture and tourism in Essex County, tourism in Hamilton County, trade with Canada in the northernmost counties and Fort Drum in Jefferson.
The presumptive nominee will also have to work to shore up support within the Adirondack Park, where has remained an enigmatic presence even during the waning days of the campaign.
THE OTHER CANDIDATES
Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello, a Glens Falls-based baker, said he found himself “underwhelmed” by Tuesday’s primary.
“It doesn’t seem to matter to me what the result,” he said in a phone interview. “We’re still going to see a four-way race.”
Funciello said his outreach to GOP voters has been successful since he won his party’s nomination in April.
“We’ve had a lot of straight talk and honestly, it’s something they desire,” he said. “Democrats are going to stick with their candidate whether they like it or not. Reaching out to the Republican base is more important to me. I really hope sparks this a democratic reaction.”
He will tour Lake Placid on Friday, and meet supporters at the Green Goddess Natural Market from 6-8 p.m. The event is open to the public and press.
Aaron Woolf is the presumptive Democratic nominee.
Since his announcement on Feb 12, and emergence a month later, the filmmaker has kept a low profile, transversing the district, often with Owens, meeting with voters and fundraising while Doheny and Stefanik went at it.
But now in the GOP aftermath, the spotlight will now shift towards the political novice, a relenting beam that he likes to say has “detonated a nuclear bomb” in his family life until the general election on November 4.
“I look forward to a spirited and ongoing discussion of the issues with my opponents,” said Woolf in an email statement. “Since entering this race, I have been focused on listening to the voters and presenting our agenda for creating jobs and ensuring long-term growth for our economy. I intend to continue this productive discussion throughout the general election. As someone who has spent his career chronicling the consequences of government decisions, I’m all too aware of the costs of shortsighted policies and partisan gridlock. We need citizen representatives, unencumbered by corrupting influences and insider politicking--only then can we address the toxic inaction of the U.S. House of Representatives.”
Reporting from Glens Falls, Adirondack Journal founder Thom Randall contributed to this article.