Could Dems win north country seat in congress? This candidate thinks so.

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Published: Dec. 1, 2021 at 6:02 PM EST
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Democrats have not won the north country’s seat in congress in nearly 10 years, and there are lots of reasons to think that won’t change.

Then, there’s the argument of Matt Putorti, one of the four announced Democratic candidates for NY-21.

More about Putorti’s argument in a minute. First, all the reasons why it won’t happen:

- There are 50,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats.

- If past is prologue, incumbent Republican Elise Stefanik has nothing to worry about. She has easily won election four times.

- Stefanik is a prolific fundraiser. Through her campaign committee, she’s already raised more than $3 million this year for her re-election. That money means she has a relentless, always on political machine supporting her.

- She’s now the number three Republican in the House of Representatives, and as such is a national political figure, with all the power that goes with that.

- Stefanik is generally well regarded by local officials for her work in getting money for local government, and being helpful when it comes to dealing with the federal government.

So what’s the case for a Democrat, any Democrat, winning in 2022?

A reporter put the ‘how can you win’ question to Putorti, while he was in Watertown Wednesday. Basically, his answer is - get a lot of Democrats and a lot of non-party voters to vote for him, and peel off some Republicans.

By his count, you combine Democrats and non-party voters and you get about 59 percent of the potential voters out there.

“I think we can create a coalition, particularly after the year or two we’ve all been through, of Democrats, of unaffiliated voters, and even to a certain extent some Republicans,” he said.

This is the tallest of tall orders, of course. But Putorti believes the Elise Stefanik of 2021 - the one who leans into the Trump wing of the Republican party - is good for him.

“The Elise who’s running this time is different than the one who’s ever run before. I think that’s a more problematic version of Elise.” The idea here is that she’s gone so far to the right, that moderate voters will be looking for another choice.

But worth remembering: Stefanik’s Democratic opponent did everything she could in 2020 to tie Stefanik to President Trump. Stefanik won by nearly 60,000 votes. Being close to President Trump was a feature, not a bug, for Stefanik’s re-election.

Putorti can read the numbers as well as anyone, and he says he’s glad Trump is not on the ballot in 2022. He will try to do two things at once - argue that Stefanik has gone too far, while at the same time he’ll push local issues, and sums up his priorities as “Internet access, affordable housing, and jobs and the economy, making sure that we have an economy that will provide good paying jobs that will support the dignity of the worker.”

He chided Stefanik Wednesday for voting against the infrastructure bill passed by congress and signed by President Biden, particularly since it has provisions to expand internet access.

“I think it’s irresponsible for a congressperson to vote against that legislation, when we know it’s something this district really needs. So first and foremost you need somebody in congress who recognizes what this district needs,” he said.

(Stefanik said the infrastructure bill was part of the Democrats’ “radical agenda.” “These radical policies show democrats’ priorities are for large, democrat cities, not for the hardworking people of the North Country,” she said in November.)

Putorti also responded Wednesday to the St. Lawrence County Democratic Committee’s decision to endorse another Democrat, Matt Castelli, as the nominee for NY-21. A spokesman for the committee said part of the reason was Castelli’s position on gun rights, which he said was more in line with voters in the north country.

Putorti said Wednesday that he supports the 2nd Amendment but also believes in “responsible protections to make sure we reduce gun violence in America.

“I mean, just yesterday we saw another school shooting. Nobody wants to see that. Nobody wants their kids to be in a school where there is an active shooting situation. So I do think there are active measures we can take.”

In June, when he announced his candidacy, Putorti said he supported a ban on assault weapons. He pointed out Wednesday that New York already has such a ban and “my position on that is no different than what is already the law in New York state.”

“Even gun owners want reasonable protections put in place to make sure people are kept safe. That’s what we all want at the end of the day.”

The other announced Democratic candidates in the race are Castelli, former Olympic hopeful Bridie Farrell and Ezra Watson of Wilton.

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