Saratoga County

21st Congressional District race in national spotlight

If the polls are right, North Country voters are going to send the youngest woman ever to serve in C
From left, Green Party candidate Matt Funicello, Republican Elise Stefanik and Democrat Aaron Woolf are the three contenders to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Bill Owens in the state's 21st Congressional District.
From left, Green Party candidate Matt Funicello, Republican Elise Stefanik and Democrat Aaron Woolf are the three contenders to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Bill Owens in the state's 21st Congressional District.

Matt Funicello

Age: 46

Party endorsements: Green

Education: High school

Occupation: Owner, Rock Hill Bakery and Cafe, Glens Falls

Personal: Divorced, one child

Elise Stefanik

Age: 30

Party endorsements: Republican, Conservative, Independence

Education: Harvard University

Occupation: Family plywood business, former White House staffer

Personal: Single

Aaron Woolf

Age: 50

Party endorsements: Democratic, Working Families

Education: Middlebury College; master’s degree, University of Iowa

Occupation: Documentary filmmaker, part owner of a Brooklyn grocery store

Personal: Married, one child

If the polls are right, North Country voters are going to send the youngest woman ever to serve in Congress to Washington in January.

The election of Republican-Conservative candidate Elise Stefanik on Tuesday would also shift the 21st Congressional District seat from Democratic to Republican control, helping solidify what is virtually certain to remain a GOP majority in the House of Representatives.

The contest in the 21st pits Stefanik — making her first bid for elected office, though she has years of national political experience — against Democrat Aaron Woolf and Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello. The seat is opening with the retirement of Democrat Bill Owens of Plattsburgh, who decided not to seek re-election after three terms.

A WWNY/Siena College poll released Monday gave Stefanik an 18-point lead over Woolf, 50 percent to 32 percent. Her lead has grown since an early September poll of the district, where the GOP has an enrollment advantage.

Stefanik, who has been criss-crossing the district for more than a year, said she doesn’t plan to slow down. In June, she defeated Matt Doheny in a Republican primary.

“Strategically, I always run like I’m 10 points behind, and I’m going to keep going,” she said Tuesday.

Television ads both for and against Stefanik and Woolf have filled the local airwaves for weeks, as candidates and political action committees try to reach residents of the sprawling and mostly rural district.

The 21st is the geographically largest congressional district in the state, extending from central Saratoga County and Fulton County north to the Canadian border and from Vermont west to Lake Ontario. It covers all or parts of 12 counties.

Elise Stefanik

Stefanik, 30, uses a family home in Willsboro as her permanent residence. She is a political conservative who portrays herself as wanting to bring “common-sense solutions” to Washington and vows to seek nonpartisan solutions to problems.

Stefanik knows Washington well. She worked on the domestic policy staff in the George W. Bush White House after graduating from Harvard University. She later worked at a conservative foreign policy think tank, helped develop the 2012 Republican presidential platform and worked on the staff of 2012 vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. In 2013, she returned to the Capital Region to work for her family’s plywood business.

Stefanik opposes the Affordable Care Act, saying it has driven up costs for the family’s small business.

She said the federal tax code should be scrapped and made “flatter, fairer and simpler” and wants an “all of the above” energy policy that includes domestic oil and gas exploration, fewer regulations on energy industries, expanded use of nuclear energy and development of alternative energy.

The race has drawn an unusual amount of national attention, with Stefanik offering the Republican rebuttal to President Obama’s weekly radio address Oct. 4 and making a national appearance on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends.”

She has also had fundraising help from GOP giants, including House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Ryan, all of whom have attended in-district fundraisers. Stefanik’s campaign raised $700,000 in the third quarter, according to a pre-election filing.

Her campaign has raised $1.6 million since August 2013 and through Oct. 15 had spent $1.4 million, according to Federal Elections Commission filings. She has also loaned $35,000 to her campaign.

The National Republican Campaign Committee has spent more than $700,000 on the race on ads attacking Woolf.

Stefanik has also been the most active candidate on social media, using Twitter to thank supporters, post photos from campaign events and retweet favorable mentions.

“I think our positive approach is resonating with voters,” she said. “My youth is an asset.”

She said her generation can’t just complain about government, but needs to help solve the country’s problems.

With the Adirondacks and Saratoga County reliant on tourism, many farms and the military economy around Fort Drum, Stefanik said the district’s economy is diverse.

“The communities need a candidate willing to learn about them,” she said.

Aaron Woolf

Woolf is a documentary filmmaker and part-owner of a Brooklyn health food grocery store, though he claims Elizabethtown as his permanent address. His films include “King Corn,” an award-winning documentary on the influence of the corn industry and its impact on consumers.

Woolf has the endorsement of Owens and has run on traditional Democratic issues, including advocacy for improved transportation infrastructure, protection of Social Security and Medicare benefits and supporting the efforts of local farmers.

Unlike Stefanik, Woolf has also suggested specific ideas for raising revenue to help close federal budget deficits. Woolf said the Affordable Care Act — also known as “Obamacare” — may need to be fixed, but shouldn’t be abandoned.

“We cannot afford to return to the past,” he said on his website. “Young adults should not return to being uninsured while they are trying to start their careers, individuals with pre-existing conditions should never have to go unprotected ever again, women should never have to pay a higher premium than men simply because of their gender, and those with serious life-threatening illnesses, like cancer, should not face bankruptcy as a result of their treatment.”

On energy policy, Woolf has called for an end to tax breaks for big oil companies and for government policy to provide more incentives for alternative energy projects and conservation. He said he believes climate change is human-caused and must be addressed.

Woolf has raised $1.9 million since January, including $800,000 in loans of his own money to the campaign, according to the FEC. Through Oct. 15, filings show he had spent more than $1.6 million.

Woolf did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

Matt Funicello

Also in the race is Funiciello, 46, of Queensbury, owner of a Glens Falls bakery-cafe and a Green Party political activist.

Funiciello has been the most straightforward of the candidates in taking specific positions on controversial issues, calling for hiking the minimum wage to $15 per hour — nearly double the current minimum — and a national single-payer health care system, similar to Canada’s.

Funicello is pulling about 11 percent of the vote, according to the WWNY/Siena poll. The FEC reported his campaign has raised $32,552, and through Oct. 15 he had spent $20,848.

Members of Congress serve two-year terms, with a salary of $174,000 per year.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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