(Editor’s note - This is the second part of a two part story exploring how the candidates for the north country’s seat in congress could win. This part focuses on Tedra Cobb. The previous part focused on Elise Stefanik and can be viewed here.)
WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - On election night 2018, after she lost to Elise Stefanik, Tedra Cobb stood in front of her supporters in a crowded ballroom in Canton and made a pledge.
“This 21st congressional district belongs to us. And it will belong to us in 2020.”
A few minutes later, Cobb told reporters she was running again.
She had reason to be encouraged. Cobb hadn’t come close to Stefanik, but came a lot closer than Stefanik’s opponents in 2016 and 2014 had. Cobb showed that Stefanik would not always win by laughable, blow out margins.
She earned credibility among Democrats with the 2018 campaign, credibility enough that donors were willing to open their wallets. As of July, Cobb had nearly $2.7 million in cash on hand - less than Stefanik, but far more than Democrats have had in the past to run against Stefanik, and enough to mount a meaningful challenge.
Cobb has been able to field a campaign staff of 16, and 2,000 volunteers, according to the candidate. And she has been able to buy extensive TV advertising, a critical factor in a race for congress.
She’s also learned from the 2018 campaign.
“I think she’s made some progress with the moderates, the moderate Democrats, and I think that might have been her problem the last time,” Mark Bellardini, chairman of the St. Lawrence County Democratic Party for the last 16 years, told 7 News.
Cobb will need big turnouts from St. Lawrence, Franklin and Clinton counties - three counties where Democrats have more registered voters than Republicans - if she is to win.
Cobb narrowly won Clinton County in 2018, and the county’s Democratic chairman, Jerry Marking, expects to improve on that this year.
“I think it’s gonna be overwhelming. I think Tedra’s gonna win big, and she’s gonna win big in this county,” Marking said.
It will take a big vote from Democrats to offset the advantage Stefanik has. Overall in the 12 county district, there are 46,000 more Republicans than Democrats.
But there are 86,000 voters not enrolled in any political party. Cobb is trying to pick up votes from many of them, and from some Republicans turned off by President Trump.
In calls to voters, “We found that 23 percent of the Republicans, who are registered Republicans, said they will be voting for me,” Cobb said Wednesday. She said more than 40 percent of the voters not registered with a party said they will vote for her.
The wild card is how President Trump divides the district. Stefanik has aligned herself with the president, and he remains very popular among Republicans.
But he is just as unpopular among Democrats and some independents, and a big anti-Trump vote will work in Cobb’s favor.
“Washington is in chaos, and quite frankly, Elise Stefanik is part of that chaos,” Cobb said.
And while the district voted heavily for President Trump in 2016, the north country voted - by smaller margins - for President Obama in 2012 and 2008. Plus, north country voters sent a Democrat, Bill Owens, to congress twice.
Another thing favoring Cobb: for the first time since 2014, there is no third party candidate in the race. Green Party candidates in 2014, 2016 and 2018 all took votes which likely would have otherwise gone to the Democrat.
It’s also clear the Stefanik campaign - which has blustered about a decisive victory this year - takes Cobb seriously. They began attacking her early, and haven’t stopped.
Talking to a reporter this week, Cobb pointed out that Democrats have so far requested 10,000 absentee ballots for November’s election, compared to 6,000 for the Republicans. “Which means we’re engaged, Democrats are engaged,” she said.
And more to the point, she said, the north country is capable of looking past whether someone is a Republican or a Democrat.
“This is a fiercely independent district,” she said. “People vote for the person and not the party.”