Former St. Lawrence County legislator Tedra Cobb said she expects the issues to remain the same going into the fall general election for the 21st Congressional District.
“I got into this race because of health care and Elise Stefanik’s vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement in place,” Cobb said on Wednesday. “I plan to keep making that point moving forward.”
Cobb won a convincing victory in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, carrying 10 of the 12 counties across the sprawling rural district and earning her the right to challenge U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, in the Nov. 6 general election, when she must also appeal to independents and Republicans.
In addition to health care, the Republican tax cut plan, which Cobb says benefits the wealthy, is an issue. Also harmful are the tax changes threats to working people’s earned retirement benefits, Cobb said. (Stefanik voted against the tax bill based on concerns about its new limits on local property tax deductions.)
The candidate said her plan going into the primary was simply to work hard, and she was surprised by her margin of victory.
“Ground game,” Cobb campaign manager Mike Szustak said to explain the election result. “Not just volunteers, but her ability to go everywhere. She was constantly criss-crossing the district for the last year.”
Cobb, 50, is a business management consultant in Canton, and earlier in her career founded a community health care center. Szustak said she attracted more than 900 volunteers to her campaign.
In her acceptance speech Tuesday night in Canton, Cobb said she plans to ask people whether they feel Washington is improving their lives, and emphasize her in-district roots. She grew up in the North Country and attended SUNY Potsdam — a contrast with Stefanik, who grew up in the Capital Region, attended Harvard University, worked in the President George W. Bush White House and now calls the Lake Champlain community of Willsboro her home.
“This campaign is the antidote to what’s wrong in Washington — with the meanness, the coldness to our fellow human beings and the division,” Cobb said. “That’s who I am, and that’s why we’re going to win in November.”
Stefanik, who at 33 remains the youngest member of Congress, is seeking her third two-year term. Her campaign spokesman issued a statement Tuesday night, as the primary results became clear, congratulating and then criticizing Cobb. On Wednesday, her campaign launched a TaxinTedra.com website that will highlight her county Legislature votes to raise property, mortgage and sales taxes.
“One of the strategic mistakes of the Democratic primary is that it didn’t highlight the significant vulnerabilities of Tedra Cobb’s tax-and-spend, liberal voting record,” said Stefanik campaign spokesman Lenny Alcivar. “She was the only candidate who had a voting record, and we look forward to ensuring North Country voters are familiar with this tax-raising record come Election Day.”
The National Republican Campaign Committee also issued a statement trying to align Cobb with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Szustak said he hopes to see national Democratic resources brought into the race, as Democrats seek to gain control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 2011.
“A lot of people thought she was the favorite, but a lot of people were surprised at how large the victory was,” said Skidmore College political science professor Robert Turner. “She certainly seems like a candidate who has got a well-structured campaign and will give Stefanik a run for her money.”
Cobb will need to counter a Republican enrollment advantage of nearly 50,000 votes. Cobb will also need to counter Stefanik’s image within the Republican Congress as a moderate. National party leaders have tabbed Stefanik as a rising young star.
“I think Stefanik is going to get a lot of resources,” Turner said. “I think (national Republicans) will view it as a must-win seat.”
On Tuesday, Cobb received 56 percent of the vote, despite being involved in a five-way race, according to final-but-unofficial results from the state Board of Elections. There were 18,475 votes cast — about 15.6 percent of active enrolled Democrats in the district.
The other four primary candidates polled within a few points of each other, results show. Dylan Ratigan finished second with 11.9 percent and won the corner of Herkimer County that’s in the district, but he was only 43 votes ahead of Katie Wilson, who received 11.7 percent of the vote and won Hamilton County. Emily Martz won 10.3 percent, and Patrick Nelson won 9.1 percent.
Cobb was the only one of the five with previous elected experience, having served in the St. Lawrence County Legislature from 2001 to 2009.
“I think experience is an argument,” Szustak said. “When you’ve run before, you know what it takes to run and win.”
Cobb discounted the novelty of two women facing each other.
“I’m running on the issues, and I happen to be a woman,” Cobb said.
The 21st District stretches across the North Country, from Fulton and Saratoga counties in the Capital Region through the rural and remote Adirondacks to the Canadian border, including the vast area west of the Adirondacks, which includes Watertown and Fort Drum.