New York-21: Elise Stefanik (R)

National Journal
Nov. 4, 2014, 5:49 p.m.

Born: Ju­ly 2, 1984

Fam­ily: Single

Re­li­gion: Cath­ol­ic

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.

Helen Fessenden contributed to this article.
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