GOP leaders defend Stefanik after criticism

Challenger Tedra Cobb raised $1 million over the weekend
Elise Stefanik is pictured.
Elise Stefanik is pictured.

21st CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT — Following a weekend during which U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik’s likely 2020 opponent, Tedra Cobb, raised more than $1 million for her campaign, state and North Country Republican and Conservative leaders on Monday said they remain “united in our support” of Stefanik.

Stefanik’s role as a defender of President Donald J. Trump in last week’s House impeachment hearings has brought national attention to the third-term representative, with both sides offering intense opinions, either praising or vilifying her.

A tweet from Trump critic George Conway early Saturday labeled the 21st Congressional District congresswoman “trashyStefanik” over her hearing performance, and urged the public to support Cobb. Conway also made his own $2,800 donation — the maximum allowed per individual. Stefanik’s defenders have called the nickname “misogynistic,” but overall Cobb has received a huge boost from the controversy.

The attention led to Cobb raising more than $1 million between Friday evening and Sunday night, according to her campaign, and getting public support from several celebrities, including actors Mark Hamill and Zach Braff. Cobb’s Twitter following grew from 6,000 last week to more than 250,000 by Monday evening.

Cobb, of Canton, had already raised more than $500,000 for her 2020 campaign prior to this weekend, while Stefanik as of Sept. 30 had banked $1.3 million, according to federal filings.

In 2018, Stefanik spent about $3 million in her re-election campaign. Cobb, a business consultant and former St. Lawrence County legislator then making her first run for Congress, spent about $1.5 million.

Stefanik’s campaign did not respond to a request Monday for its weekend fundraising totals, but she did send out fundraising emails after the impeaching hearings, including another on Monday citing Cobb’s fundraising success. “If you’ve watched the impeachment hearings, then you know why the Trump-hating socialist Democrats are DESPERATE to silence me,” she wrote.

At age 35, Stefanik is the youngest Republican woman serving in the House, and she remains among the youngest members of Congress. She is also the only Republican woman on the House Intelligence Committee.

Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, is expected to remain one of the more active Republicans as the impeachment hearings resume Tuesday morning in Washington, D.C. Hearings are scheduled for Tueday, Wednesday and Thursday, with scheduled witnesses, including some with first-hand knowledge of the July 25 phone call during which Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for a “favor” in investigating presidential rival Joe Biden and his son.

Stefanik’s hearing performance on Friday included her urging Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff to let her ask questions at the request of ranking minority member Rep. Devin Nunes, even though hearing rules prohibited Nunes from yielding time to her at that point in the proceedings. Stefanik later had a chance to ask questions of the witness, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

The Republican and Conservative leaders, in their public letter supporting Stefanik, called Cobb “far-left” and “the worst Democratic candidate in America.”

Cobb on Monday wasn’t responding to the attacks contained in the letter and from others. “The tenor of our politics too often divides us. I won’t take the bait. I don’t do name calling,” she wrote on Twitter. “I’m old enough to remember when we could expect our leaders to take the high road. I’m calling on our representatives in Washington to do better this week.”

“Stefanik’s partisan political theater is beneath the dignity of her office,” Cobb wrote in an email to The Daily Gazette on Saturday. “She skipped several important private hearings — but with the cameras on, she repeatedly attempted to derail public hearings. Instead of performing cheap political stunts, she should focus on doing her job. This week’s hearings highlighted grave allegations concerning this administration’s interaction with Ukraine. This is a matter of national security that must be fully investigated. Ambassador Yovanovitch is a public servant who deserves to testify without being attacked. Far too often the tenor of our politics divides us.”

The signers of the letter supporting Stefanik included state Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy, state Conservative Party Chairman Gerald Kassar, Saratoga County Republican Chairman Carl Zeilman, and Fulton County Republican Chairwoman Sue McNeil. The GOP chairs in all 12 counties in the 21st Congressional District signed the letter.

“We are grateful for her service to voters throughout these impeachment hearings as she asks the strongest questions and shines the light of truth on this important constitutional matter,” they wrote. “We are proud that the American public has seen her emerge as the staunchest defender of truth, transparency and the United States Constitution. The American people are discovering what we already know well at home in New York’s 21st District: She is truly a new generation leader and rising star.”

Even Trump himself has weighed in on the upstate congresswoman, after Stefanik defended him on Friday. During questioning, she noted that no Ukrainian investigation into the Bidens ever took place and funding for Ukrainian arms was released anyway.

“A new Republican Star is born. Great going @EliseStefanik,” Trump tweeted on Sunday morning.

The president also retweeted a Stefanik tweet critical of Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, linked to a video of Friday’s hearing. “How many times can Adam Schiff say “the Gentlewoman is NOT recognized”? He clearly has NO interest in letting Republicans have any say in the impeachment hearings. Watch him interrupt us multiple times and refuse to yield for our parliamentary questions,” Stefanik wrote in that tweet.

The 21st Congressional District, which stretches from Fulton and Saratoga counties to the Canadian border, remains overwhelmingly Republican by enrollment. As of Nov. 1, the state Board of Elections lists it as having 178,067 registered Republicans, 131,165 Democrats, and 96,978 voters who are unaffiliated.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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