WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - With a couple of days to consider the numbers, maybe the biggest takeaway from election night is - Elise Stefanik had a very good night.
No, scratch that: she had a spectacularly good night.
It’s hard to overstate how well she performed in her re-election run against Tedra Cobb. When the votes were counted Tuesday, she led Cobb by 73,000. That’s more than the total number of potential write-ins, let alone the number which will actually be returned and counted.
Now when those write-ins are counted, Stefanik’s margin will drop, maybe considerably. It’s possible Stefanik will end up winning by less than she did in 2016, when she had a 70,000 vote margin.
But in 2016, Stefanik ran against a very weak Democrat, Mike Derrick. This year, she ran against a well-funded Democrat, Tedra Cobb, who ran a tightly focused campaign which went after Stefanik on issues where you might expect to find weakness - her record voting against Obamacare; her fealty to President Trump.
Not only did none of it matter, Stefanik beat Cobb by much more than she did in 2018. Again, we don’t have the write-in results, which will change things in Cobb’s favor. But right now, it appears Stefanik beat Cobb by 8 percent more in 2020 (65 percent of the vote to Stefanik) than in 2018 (57 percent of the vote to Stefanik). By my ‘back of the envelope’ math, Cobb would need to get around 45,000 mail-in votes to reduce Stefanik’s margin back to 2018 levels.
And Stefanik still wins.
By a lot.
As of election day, Stefanik won every county in the 21st congressional district - after losing a couple to Cobb in 2018 - with Jefferson County giving her a 14,000 vote margin, the largest of any of the counties.
For that matter, Stefanik got more votes than President Trump in 10 of the 21st congressional district’s 12 counties. (We don’t have data for the other two.) That likely won’t change, and it would seem vindication for Stefanik’s pitch to voters that she’s ‘bipartisan’ and can work with Democrats.
(Late in the campaign, she ran an ad that mentioned and showed President Obama. Stefanik had it both ways throughout the campaign, selling herself as one of President Trump’s chief advocates on the one hand, and one of the most bipartisan members of congress on the other.)
So why does any of this matter? Here’s why: A night like Tuesday night just adds rocket fuel to Stefanik’s rise in the ranks of Republican politics.
Stefanik clearly has her sights set on a much bigger political future. She is widely seen as a young star of the Republican Party and she’s starting to get the kind of glowing treatment from Fox News reserved for conservative heavy hitters. She was on “Fox & Friends” Thursday morning to talk election and her own political action committee’s success in helping get at least 13 Republican women elected to congress Tuesday night.
“There will be more Republican women serving in the United States congress than ever before,” Stefanik told the Fox & Friends hosts. She can claim at least partial credit for that.
In Washington, you gather power by winning yourself and by helping like-minded people who win. This year, Stefanik has done both in a big way.
(Mandatory background which you already know if you’ve read this far: Stefanik is congresswoman for New York 21, the congressional district which covers all of northern New York, including Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. She’s served three terms and will now start her fourth.)