CANTON — As the new Democratic-controlled House takes office, Tedra L. Cobb is back to freelance consulting, working out of the wood-heated, wood-paneled house she built with her husband. The snowy fields outside, dotted with fence posts and solar panels, concealed from the road behind a screen of trees, could not be less like the fanaticism of D.C. — or more north country.
In the months since her unsuccessful bid to win the 21st Congressional District from U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, Ms. Cobb has had time to reflect and plan for her next run in 2020. According to Ms. Cobb, the campaigning itself — meeting people face-to-face around the district — felt natural.
“In some ways, it’s just an extension of what I’ve always done,” she said. “I think it’s kind of an extension of who I am and what I want to do.”
Ms. Cobb did have some regrets — among them not pushing back more strongly on Ms. Stefanik’s attacks.
“I think I should have been stronger about Elise’s deceit,” Ms. Cobb said. “She ran a very dishonest campaign about me.”
Some claims by the Stefanik campaign, such as alleging Ms. Cobb had voted 21 times to raise taxes as a county legislature, were misleading. A fact check by the Glens Falls Post-Star found it was closer to seven votes to increase taxes. But the Stefanik campaign stood by all its claims.
In a statement sent to the Times on Thursday, Lenny Alcivar, Ms. Stefanik’s campaign spokesman, dismissed Ms. Cobb’s comments.
“Once again Taxin’ Tedra shows that she was the worst Democratic candidate in the country,” he wrote. “No positions except for raising taxes and banning guns. The best gift north country Democrats can give the Stefanik campaign is to nominate Taxin’ Tedra again.”
Ms. Cobb said she would also possibly change the composition of her campaign next time, potentially having more professional staff.
“More professional staff would supplement all of those volunteers,” she said.
Ms. Cobb’s professional campaign manager, Mike Szustak, left shortly after she won the Democratic primary under circumstances Ms. Cobb still declines to discuss on the record. He was replaced by Anna Sorensen, an instructor at SUNY Potsdam.
But Ms. Cobb did push back on the idea that her campaign was hurt by a lack of policy specifics.
“Principles drive policy,” she said. “Not privatizing social security is a policy ... Health care for everyone is a policy.”
It is the how, not the what, on which she thinks it is important to remain flexible.
“I hope to continue to learn,” she said. “We want an easy answer and the legislative process isn’t always an easy answer.”
Looking ahead to 2020, Ms. Cobb plans on continuing to learn.
“You can’t run the same campaign twice,” she said.
Many of the issues will remain the same, though, Ms. Cobb thinks — including health care.
“Unless there is big change ... it has to be part of the conversation,” she said.
With Democrats controlling the state Assembly and Senate and a Democratic governor, there is a chance that the state may pass a single-payer health care program, the New York Health Act. Ms. Cobb does not think that would be the end of the conversation.
“If that goes through, it will be interesting how it’s paid for,” she said.
Just because medical insurance is covered does not mean there are adequate facilities to dispense medical care.
“I’ve done the health care work for a really long time; we still have issues around access to health care,” she said. “Social Security, Medicare, these are things that are crucially important.”
Other issues remain — the economy, infrastructure, environmental regulation. From roads and bridges to acid rain and mercury concentration in waterways, Ms. Cobb thinks there is a role for better federal representation in the north country. In this vein, Ms. Cobb is skeptical about Ms. Stefanik’s recent push to recruit more women to run as Republicans — the Congresswoman has left her role as chair of recruitment for the National Republican Congressional Committee and clashed, publicly, with the new NRCC chair over her plans to support women in primaries.
“I’d like her to pay more attention to the district,” she said. “She cares more about the Republican Party than she cares about her constituents.”
In a statement sent to the Times on Thursday, as the new Congress convened, Ms. Stefanik defended her record.
“I am honored to serve our district in the 116th Congress,” she wrote. “I will continue to work to deliver bipartisan results such as protecting Fort Drum, advocating for north country farms, fighting on behalf of small businesses and manufacturers and representing the hard-working families of our district.”
The fact remains that Ms. Cobb lost — not by as much as previous Democratic candidates in the 21st Congressional District, but by more than any other Democrat in New York. Republicans out-register Democrats by about 40,000 voters, or about 25 percent, in the district, and there are about 85,000 blanks who are not registered with any party. The numbers mean that any Democrat is facing an uphill battle in the district, although Ms. Stefanik’s immediate predecessor, Rep. William Owens, was a Democrat. To counter the disadvantage, Ms. Cobb thinks her future campaign will involve a mix of getting out Democratic voters as well as flipping Republican and independent votes.
“We did get out the Democrat votes — we closed the gap down from 35 points (in 2016) to 14,” Ms. Cobb said.
She pointed out the total number of votes she received — 99,791, according to the New York Times — is more than the 90,164 votes Ms. Stefanik received when she won the seat in 2014. Ms. Cobb also is optimistic that by 2020 some of the proposed voting changes at the state level will go through, like early voting and easier registration.
“I always hope for voter enfranchisement,” she said.
She also plans to do some things the same — she will not accept corporate PAC money and she hopes to work with local elected officials.
“I’ve run for local office; I’d love to help other people who want to run for local office,” she said.
Ms. Cobb won a decisive victory in June in the five-way Democratic primary, a race that had up to 10 participants at one point. Asked about whether she would face another primary in 2020, she demurred.
“I have no idea,” she said. “I’m still just planning.”
She did highlight that all four of her former opponents worked with her during the general election to varying degrees.
Whatever happens in the 2020 Congressional race, it will happen after two years of a Democratic-controlled House and at the same time as a Democratic primary race. Those years will continue an internal party conversation between the Democratic socialists and Blue Dogs, progressives and centrists. Ms. Cobb finds these discussions largely distracting and dislikes the idea of purity tests for Democrats.
“My style is more of listen and wait and try to get all of those different voices to work together,” she said. “You can’t do it if you’re all just yelling at each other.”
But Ms. Cobb also hopes the party will be able to change and adapt.
“I hope the older leaders will be able to share power with the younger people,” she said. “I’m a firm believer in new ideas.”
As for herself, Ms. Cobb plans to continue being pragmatic — including about whether she sees a path to victory in 2020.
“I gotta do the numbers,” she said.
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