In Stefanik’s sweeping victory, one cautionary number

Elise Stefanik moved to Willsboro, in Essex County, last year after nearly a decade of operating at the highest level of power in Washington DC.  Photo:  Stefanik campaign

Elise Stefanik moved to Willsboro, in Essex County, last year.  Now she’ll be heading back to Washington DC. Photo: Stefanik campaign

Tuesday was a home-run for Elise Stefanik, who combined her personal talent as a campaigner with a powerfully organized campaign and big support from local and national donors.  She created one of the finest political operations ever seen in the North Country.

Along the way, she managed to inspire the kind of passion not seen among conservatives since Doug Hoffman’s insurgent campaign half a decade ago, while also executing the kind of methodical, disciplined game plan that he couldn’t muster.

She also found ways to temper a largely conservative set of agenda items — a flatter tax, opposition to abortion rights — making them sound comfortably moderate for our region’s purplish voters.

And so she goes to Washington DC as the youngest woman ever — just 30 years old — elected to Congress by either party.  It’s a proud accomplishment.  Once again, North Country politics produced a weird, exciting outcome with potentially huge national ramifications.

But if that number, 30, is meaningful (and it is, for a party that’s struggled to appeal to younger, single and female voters), there’s another number that Stefanik should pay attention to as she prepares to represent this sprawling, rural, idiosyncratic region.

That number is 9.

Translation?  Stefanik scored nine fewer votes in her adopted home town of Willsboro than her Democratic opponent, Aaron Woolf.  And when you combine Woolf’s Willsboro tally  with the votes garnered there by Green Matt Funiciello — a combined total of 356 ballots — they significantly outstripped Stefanik’s 258 votes.

While winning the district with 53% support, she scored just 42% in her “home” town.

Fortunately for Stefanik, she wasn’t running for town supervisor.  Her sights were set much, much higher.  But it’s an important footnote to this race that her most immediate neighbors were still telling NCPR and NPR quite late in the campaign that they don’t know her very well, and in many cases haven’t even met her.

Willsboro’s outlier vote seems to reflect that lingering unfamiliarity, and a lingering sense that her narrative about her family’s history in the North Country didn’t quite jibe with peoples’ experiences.

That should be food for thought for Representative-elect Stefanik.  As she pivots now to do the work of the North Country, the truth is that the vast, overwhelming majority of people here who “know” her, do so from the flood of campaign ads and televised debates.

And the flipside is also true.  Stefanik’s knowledge of “us” comes almost entirely through the lens of a structured, disciplined political campaign.  We haven’t gone to church together.  We haven’t struggled through school tax debates together.  We haven’t shared the kind of daily experiences that defines life in this unique part of America.

During the campaign, the Republican herself and her ardent supporters in Willsboro reacted defiantly to the idea that she is a carpetbagger, with only the thinnest seasonal ties to our region.  But maybe the time has come for Stefanik to flex a bit and embrace and acknowledge some of those shortcomings.

Soon enough, her important work and her impressive victory will take her back to Washington DC where she has made her home through much of her adult life.  It will be interesting — and perhaps more than interesting — to see in the weeks between now and her January swearing-in how Stefanik works to deepen her roots.

My sense is that she might be well served by beginning that process in Willsboro, with active outreach to the neighbors she’ll now be representing in Congress.

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28 Comments on “In Stefanik’s sweeping victory, one cautionary number”

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  1. everGreen says:

    Yes, her “finest” campaign moment occurred when she about left her shoe behind ducking a question in a parking lot. If both major party candidates were strong in their convictions they would not have had to skip out on the open-forum scheduled in Watertown in late October. I hope they have a durable script waiting for her in D.C., the North Country one is about played out.

  2. PirateEdwardLow says:

    To say “adopted home town of Willsboro” is not as clear as saying “Her P.O. Box in Willsboro.” It would be amusing… or insightful to count the number of days she resides in Willsboro during her tenure…

    But more importantly will be to find a way to measure how she ‘represents’ NY21. A comparison would be to Senator Clinton, who many tried to pigeon hole her as a carpetbagger, but I would contend she represented New Yorkers very well. I hope the same will be said of Representative Elect Stefanik.

    Hopefully the lack of church going in the NY21 isn’t problematic… since we don’t not have to have a religion in our country (and despite the rhetoric on the campaign trail and fox — we don’t practice in reality [72% say they are christian, but only 39% attend]), or more importantly, that her religion of the money that contributed to her victory isn’t the only thing she prays to or is preyed upon.

    And it will be very interesting to look at what were her ‘issues’ or as I see them — vague political sound bits — and see what they really are within the context of her voting record.

  3. I think it’s an overstatement to say she inspired passion in voters. I met a lot of Stefanik voters and they seemed to think she was competent and knowledgeable. But I didn’t sense any great passion for her candidacy, other than two demographic facts about her. Given the fanaticism of Hoffman’s appeal, this emphasis on competence may not be a bad thing. I think she won because she was perceived as competent (for advancing her agenda) while Woolf was perceived as devoid of passion and lacking adequate policy knowledge and Funiciello was perceived as knowledgeable and passionate but that he “couldn’t win.” Whether these perceptions were misguided or not, I think they were there.

  4. Clarification: Obviously there were some individual voters who were passionate about her candidacy, as there surely were with the other two. I was speaking writ large.

  5. everGreen says:

    Yes, her “finest” campaign moment occurred when she about left her shoe behind ducking a question in a parking lot. If both major party candidates were strong in their convictions they would not have had to skip out on the open-forum scheduled in Watertown in late October. I hope they have a durable script waiting for her in D.C., the North Country one is about played out.

  6. The Original Larry says:

    Let’s get real, here. This is nothing more than the sourest of grapes, especially in this contest where both major party candidates were vulnerable to charges of carpetbagging. Where else should someone be who aspires to national office besides Washington, DC? Running food stores in Brooklyn maybe? Must be you’ve been so overcome by that “wave” you were looking for last week that you can’t think clearly.

  7. SteveB says:

    I bet you all voted for Hillary Clinton! New York is known to allow Carpet Baggers. Robert Kennedy for example! You guys are nothing but hypocrites! This time you lost…Change the Residency Laws! What I have found thru this …. is that there is a Democrat war on conservative woman! Wake up! Hypocrites! My Carpet Bagger beat your Carpet Bagger! Have fun!

  8. dave says:

    Larry, while it is true that neither of them were “locals” (as we seem to like to define that term around these parts) and both of them had lives and experiences outside the district… there really is no comparison when it comes to their North Country credentials.

    Aaron Wolf spends a lot of time in the North Country. If you were from near where he lives, you would know this. He is very well known in his community, and in the surrounding communities. Business and restaurant owners know him, and knew him long before this campaign. Hell, I saw him at a Halloween party up here. Seriously, at some random get together – like you would any other regular Joe. He is as much a part of his North Country community as most everyone else I know.

    So no… despite the back and forth campaign rhetoric, there really was no comparison between the two in this department.

    One thing I did find really interesting about this election is that it obliterated two of the common lies we seem to tell ourselves in the North Country. First, that being from here is important to us… because the person least from here just received more votes than the two people that are more from here. And Second, that we prefer the ‘everyperson’ to the polished, career bound politician… because an experienced DC player just beat a local documentary film maker and a baker. So clearly, neither of those two things are really true, or at least they weren’t this election.

  9. The Original Larry says:

    Now you want to parse what being a “local” means? If you know Woolf as well as you claim to I expect you would be able to spell his name correctly. Also, how many locals do you know who own businesses in Brooklyn? Sour grapes, like I said.

  10. Brian Mann says:

    Larry –

    One of the things that I want to urge you to do is actually read the essays published here and then respond to the actual ideas contained in them.

    This is one of the most tiresome — and I would hazard to say the most dangerous – aspects of civil debate in America today.

    If you begin with the assumption that anyone questioning “your team” or thinking about public policy or leadership in complex ways is doing a hit job or expressing sour grapes, then you’re at a dead end.

    On the other hand, if you read through the ideas and disagree with them in specific, then we can have a conversation.

    In this case, I’ve pointed out something really interesting: This amazing politician who has emerged in the North Country fared poorest in her own home town. I raise this not as a slander or a jab, but as a cautionary bit of information that our new congresswoman should grapple with.

    Maybe you disagree? Maybe you think the vote in Willsboro means something different? Fine. That’s great. But if you begin always with the assumption that it’s always knives and daggers and secret (or not so secret) agendas — well, it’s boring and it doesn’t take us anywhere.

    Finally I’ll say what I always say to people who raise arguments like yours: If you think we have a pattern of bias, make that argument. If you think a particular piece is unfair or factually wrong, martial your facts.

    The alternative when I see dismissiveness like this (from the right or the left) is to conclude that a person is simply being closed-minded. Information makes them uncomfortable or it challenges their comfort zone of thinking, so they dismiss it.

    But that’s not what we do here. We put forward information that is factual and fair, but that is also explicitly designed to make people think and challenge their assumptions.

    –Brian, NCPR

  11. I *think* the point O. Larry was trying to make was “She didn’t win her adopted hometown. So what?” If that was indeed his point, I agree. I don’t think this blog post was offensive – for many, the shrill bias canard is more an intimidation tactic than an actual belief – but it was more like grasping at straws at a non-story. If my numbers are correct, Dems outnumber Republicans in Willsboro 58-39%, so her losing a town by 9 votes out of over 600 to a Democrat in a race where she won overall by more than 35,000 votes is not something I’d be worried about one iota, if I were her.

  12. Brian Mann says:

    Brian – That’s a fair argument.

    –Brian, NCPR

  13. The Original Larry says:

    Brian, I still think it is wrong to characterize Stefanik as a carpetbagger after an election in which both candidates were vulnerable to that charge. That’s what I said; maybe you’re the one who doesn’t read. Not mentioning that residency was an issue for both of them begs the question of fairness. What’s truly tiresome is being accused of lacking understanding, ignoring facts or being “dangerous” when all I did was disagree with what I think is a specious, mean-spirited essay. Stefanik gets 53% of the vote district wide and you focus on 9 votes in Willsboro? Keep it real, Brian!

  14. Gary says:

    blah, blah, On October 11th you posted, “if 2014 is a Republican wave, where’s the wave.” It washed you away! Start focusing on why the dems lost so badly and what they need to change before 2016. You may not like it but the voters across the country have spoken.

  15. pirateedwardlow says:

    Both Candidates??? there weren’t two candidates… perhaps two that weren’t very local

    But there were three candidates — one of them lives and works in the district and not just for 12 months every election season.

  16. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Cowabunga, dude! My Beat Authority t-shirt just arrived in the mail! I didn’t vote for Betty but she would have loved me hanging 10 on the curl with my new t on!

  17. PirateEdwardLow says:

    B-Mann great point on the civil debate.

    I am not sure what people understand as a discussion and/or civil… but clearly if two people would ‘down vote’ the point that there were more than two candidates or that KH-Liberal received a t-shirt.

    1) read before you respond to the article or comment
    b) measure your foot twice before opening your mouth — for cutting comment.

    18) one of the problems with responding to ‘blog posts’ is there is no edit function, so you make a mistake you can’t correctly spell the name of an acquaintance you run into at a party. Being a horrible self-editor, I sympathize since have made and will make many mistakes only to realize them a day later.

  18. PirateEdwardLow says:


    Is your complaint that B-Mann is bias or that like most news reporters he looked at the polls and responded to that fact

    Here is a Fox News story… about the polls

    An interesting story from a company that has been known to be bias.

    One of the things that has happened in our country is polarization — when a president wins by a landslide it means he has 52% of the vote… or in Stefanik’s case she had 53%. In other words of those who voted 47% did not want her… and I would guess of the 53% that she garnered a lot of folks just pulled the republican line, because they always do that (same with democratic Woolf) … Key might be ‘of those who voted’ because regardless if you voted for Stefanik or voted at all, she will still have represent us all.

    So look at B-Mann’s point, is Stefanik overwhelmingly loved in NY21? Does she have to now walk to the walk to earn the appreciation of the district? There are likely to be lots of answers, but they are good points and astutely pointed out.

  19. Kent Gregson says:

    If the Republicans outspend everybody else by so much and bring in outside influences to support local races, how can they claim a mandate when it’s clear that the election to a degree was bought? I’d like to see an analysis that gives a clearer measure of votes per dollar in these days of massive secret election support that has no accountability.

  20. PirateEdwardLow says:

    Agree with Kent

    Why is it that just about every story about politics points to one thing

    Campaign Reform

  21. Brian Mann says:

    Good conversation. I don’t think the question of whether Elise Stefanik is a “carpetbagger” is a political gotcha question. The election’s over, she won — and won handily. As my essay notes, she did so in large measure through her own remarkable skills and talents.

    I think the discussion we’re having now is more an issue of talking now about what happens next.

    I think it’s noteworthy that the broad analysis from my post was reflected in similarly cautionary editorials in the Press Republican, the Glens Falls Post Star, WPTZ, the Watertown Daily Times and the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

    After the election, they all congratulated Rep.-elect Stephanik on her win, they all spoke glowingly about her abilities.

    But they also noted the significant disconnect between her history, her campaign narrative, and her new role. They also pointed to the new reality of outside interests (money, Super PACs, etc.) which influenced this race so profoundly.

    In all my years as a political reporter, I’ve never seen a tone so universal across media after an election — a tone that I would describe as optimistic and laudatory but also wary.

    That tone was reflected even in the Watertown paper’s essay — and that’s a newspaper that endorsed Stefanik.

    –Brian, NCPR

  22. Peter Hahn says:

    This was a bad year for Democrats and a good one for Republicans. Evidently the 6th year of a presidency usually means the other party wins big in the off year election. Carpet bagging probably had little to do with anything. It is likely that most voters correctly understood where everyone was from and it didn’t concern them. It is, I agree with Brian M that it is a little surprising that she didn’t connect more with the Willsboro residents. Matt Funiceillo well, did better than district average, in his home area as did Aaron Woolf in his home area.

  23. The Original Larry says:

    So now carpetbagging isn’t a big deal. Why then did you mention it so prominently in your original post; that whole 9 votes thing? Now it’s all about what comes next. Now come the insinuations that the election was somehow bought by the Republicans…as if Democrats don’t use the exact same tactics. When Republicans lose, your narrative is about what they need to do to recover. When they win, the insinuation is that somehow they did so unfairly. It begins to look like no conservative can do anything without relentless criticism, warranted or not, from the Left.

  24. Peter Hahn says:

    “It begins to look like no conservative can do anything without relentless criticism, warranted or not, from the Left.” Larry – this is a surprise? How many times have you (or people on the right) praised things liberals have done?

  25. Matt Funiciello says:

    In the end,

    Funiciello raised $2 per vote
    Woolf raised $37 per vote
    Stefanik raised $40 per vote

  26. pirateedwardlow says:

    A lot of complaints about Stefanik (including some lobbed in by me) have nothing to do with her, but with the system

    If she wasn’t ‘citizen enough’ to run, she couldn’t. The law showed she is a legal candidate..

    To say she won because of outside money, however true, matters not, since the law is set up (by the crooks who put it in place) and was used by Stefanik (like so many other candidates) to her favor.

    It is inane to complain about her victory as such, since what anyone (and I contend everyone) should be upset with is the immoral system we now have in place

  27. pirateedwardlow says:

    An after thought. The Post Star has a section in the sports pages called something like ‘Following Fredette’ each day following a game that Jimmer Fredette is in they list his stats

    I think it would be fun to see a weekly “Stefanik’s Stats” section in the local paper or here on ncpr showing bills she introduced or voted on…

    Not sure why the media doesn’t do that for all candidates… but then, maybe most people don’t care.

  28. helloladiesandgentlemen says:

    Does anyone recall the numbers from the start? Wasn’t Stefanik favored to win from the start, even before Doheny re-emerged, offering birth to the argument that nothing significantly changed during the laborious campaign season?

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