21st CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT -- Democratic congressional candidate Tedra Cobb acknowledged Tuesday she was surprised by the national attention and $1 million in donations she received over the weekend for her campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik in 2020.
"I did not see it coming, but I want to thank all those people and say that they are joining all the people who have given $5 or $10," Cobb said in Queensbury, where she held a campaign stop and had her first meeting with reporters since a controversial tweet brought her national attention on Saturday. "To all those donors, I say welcome to Team Tedra."
Kicking off a week of campaigning, Cobb appeared at Chicken Coop Forge in a sometimes-disorderly event with about 100 supporters. She was sometimes aggressively questioned by members of a local group whose members call themselves the North Country Deplorables, who are outspoken supporters of President Donald Trump and Stefanik.
Cobb asked the handful of people from the Deplorables group to be respectful, but she promised to engage with them. "I will continue to talk to you and everyone else ... We're going to have many conversations and will try to find common ground, because that's what we need in Washington," the business consultant and former St. Lawrence County legislator said.
Cobb, of Canton, told reporters she supports the current impeachment investigation, but said it is too soon to know whether Trump has committed impeachable offenses.
"What Congress needs to do is follow the truth with objectivity and an open mind, and that is not what's happening with some people in Congress, and Elise Stefanik is one of them," she said.
It was Stefanik's role in the House Intelligence Committee impeachment hearings that has brought national attention to the 21st Congressional District race. Stefanik, as a member of the committee's Republican minority, defended Trump and criticized the Democratic majority at hearings last week, and asked questions intended to be helpful to Trump.
A tweet from well-known Washington lawyer and vocal Trump critic George Conway early Saturday labeled Stefanik "trashyStefanik" over her hearing performance on Friday, He 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 "trashyStefanik" nickname misogynistic, but Cobb received a huge boost from the controversy.
The attention led to Cobb raising more than $1 million between Friday evening and Sunday night, and getting public support from several celebrities, including actors Mark Hamill and Zach Braff.
Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, has responded to the rush of support for Cobb by citing her solid support among Republicans and Conservatives. The Republican Party has a large enrollment advantage in the vast 21st Congressional District, which stretches from Fulton and Saratoga counties across the Adirondacks to the Canadian border.
A 2020 race between Stefanik and Cobb would be a rematch of the 2018 election, in which Stefanik handily defeated Cobb and won her third term in Congress. It was during that election that Stefanik's campaign came up with the nickname "Taxin' Tedra" for Cobb, because she voted for various tax increases during her eight years as a county legislator. Stefanik has revived the nickname.
In her campaign speech, Cobb was highly critical of Stefanik as "part of the problem" of dysfunction in Washington, but said she won't respond with a nickname for Stefanik. "We will never do name-calling," she said.
"If we keep sending the same people back to Washington, we will keep getting the same result," Cobb told her supporters.
Cobb said better access to more affordable health care is one of her priorities, and she criticized Stefanik for voting for Republican bills that would have repealed the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
But when a crowd member who supports Medicare for all said he would work against her if she didn't commit to supporting government-run health insurance, Cobb told the man only that she was willing to have a conversation about it. "I have been working for years to expand access to health care," Cobb told reporters a few minutes later, adding that she would support a "public option" to compete with current private insurance plans.
But the willingness to discuss Medicare for all drew a quick response from the Stefanik campaign. "NY-21's far-left Democrat Taxin' Tedra Cobb declared herself willing to have a 'conversation' in support of Medicare for All," the campaign statement said.
Stefanik's campaign also highlighted a tweet from analyst Dave Wasserman of the non-partisan Cook report, who has concluded that Stefanik isn't vulnerable in 2020. "Has Stefanik grandstanded at impeachment hearings? Absolutely. Will it cost her back home? Not as long as #NY21 has more in common culturally w/ northern Minnesota/Michigan than Brooklyn or Chappaqua," Wasserman wrote.
On Monday, state Republican and Conservative leaders issued statements supporting Stefanik, and on Tuesday state Independence Party Chairman Frank MacKay did, too.
"Through countless legislative initiatives, she has been steadfast in her support of the North Country economy and for a more prosperous, safer, and cleaner New York," MacKay said. "Elise has fought continuously to protect Fort Drum and to support our New York veterans. She has been a leader in New York in both national security and fiscal responsibility, and in turn, has earned respect from members of all political parties across our region and across the United States."
Cobb noted that she, unlike Stefanik, has lived in the North Country for 30 years. She said her platform includes expanding access to quality affordable health care, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, maintaining Social Security and Medicare, and protecting the environment.
Cobb's Queensbury appearance was the first in a district tour this week, called the "Fighting for Northern New York Tour," that will include stops in Plattsburgh on Wednesday, Watertown on Thursday, and Potsdam on Friday.