Born: July 2, 1984
Education: Harvard University, B.A., 2006
Career: Wood products sales, marketing, and management company executive, 2012-present; presidential campaign aide, 2012; White House staffer, 2006-09
Elected Office: None
Republican Elise Stefanik defeated Democrat Aaron Woolf in the open contest for New York’s 21st District, succeeding retiring Democratic Rep. Bill Owens. Not only was the race a top GOP pickup opportunity; it also elevated Stefanik as a rising young Republican star. She will represent the northernmost district in New York, running along Vermont to the east and Canada to the north and west.
Born and raised in Albany, Stefanik grew up among entrepreneurs, with both parents running a wholesale plywood business. She became politically engaged during her college years at Harvard, and upon graduating in 2006, she landed a job with the Bush administration’s Domestic Policy Council. She then went on to work in the White House chief of staff’s office, and later joined Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 presidential campaign. After Pawlenty withdrew, she stayed involved in the 2012 contest, working for Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin after Mitt Romney named him his running mate.
Stefanik returned to the family business after the election, but her hiatus from politics was short-lived. After Owens announced his retirement in 2013, she proclaimed her House bid and secured the backing of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns” initiative, which supports new talent. GOP leaders saw her chances as strong, given the rural district’s traditional Republican lean; though Owens had served in the House since his 2009 victory in a special election amid a divided Republican field, it was only with the narrowest of margins. (Owens first represented the neighboring 23rd District, then won in the redistricted 21st in 2012.)
With $800,000 in help from Karl Rove’s American Crossroads — mostly through negative ads — Stefanik dispatched Republican Matt Doheny in the June primary, 61 percent to 39 percent. She then faced Woolf in the general, taking a GOP line on some issues but moderating on others. She signaled a willingness to compromise on raising the minimum wage, and she proposed expanding Medicare as part of an alternative to the Affordable Care Act. She also refused to sign Grover Norquist’s antitax pledge, arguing that she was beholden to voters, not lobbies.
Still, Stefanik’s campaign ran into bumps as she came under criticism for lacking a district address and for property-tax delinquency in D.C. Woolf, a film director whose credits include King Corn, stayed competitive on the cash front, raising $800,000 in the third quarter compared with $700,000 for Stefanik. But in September, she posted a 13-point lead in a nonpartisan poll, with Green Party candidate Matt Funicello draining some support from Woolf. That split between liberal and centrist voters persisted through October, and Stefanik was able to pull away on Election Day.