Written by Emily Hargan for Bourbon and Politics on September 2, 2020
In the last year, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik’s stock has skyrocketed in Republican circles. Just last week, she was prime time on stage giving an address at the Republican National Convention. And, who could forget the viral sensation she became during the impeachment proceedings back in November 2019?
At 30, Elise Stefanik was the youngest woman ever elected to the House of Representatives when she won her first term in 2014. Now she’s running for a 4th term in New York’s 21st Congressional district. All the polls project that she will once again beat Tedra Cobb, her opponent she beat in 2018 by 14 points, and that NY-21 will remain solidly Republican—but Elise Stefanik isn’t letting her foot of the gas.
As the daughter of small business owners from Upstate New York, Stefanik knows all too well how challenging it is for many of her constituents and how public policy impacts families. She grew up in Albany, New York, and was underfoot in her parent’s fledgling plywood distribution business. While her parents weren’t involved in politics, they were patriotic and hard-working. They instilled these values into Elise, and prior to running for Congress, she worked for her family business gaining a deep appreciation for all the risks and challenges business owners face.
However, Elise’s journey to politics didn’t initially start back home in Upstate New York. Instead, after graduating from Harvard University, she was hired by the George W. Bush Administration in 2006. She moved to Washington, DC and worked at the White House.
Stefanik looks back on her time in the Bush White House saying, “ having that experience at such a young age where you are literally sitting ten steps down from the Oval Office and having the opportunity to learn from senior policy experts day to day was a huge honor and very important to me.”
Her White House experience ultimately led her to be hired by the Romney Presidential Campaign to run the debate prep process for then-Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan. Unfortunately the Romney-Ryan team did not win in 2012, Stefanik headed back to New York to work in her family business.
But the political bug stuck with her, and with the encouragement of friends and family, she saw an opportunity to represent what she saw as a changing demographic in the electorate—working women—so she ran for Congress in 2014. She won huge—by 22 points—and her race drew national attention. She had just won in 2014 in a district that had voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and in 2012, presaging by two years the migration of millions of voters from Obama to Trump in districts like hers. She was also the youngest woman ever elected to Congress which was being looked at as an indicator that a new breed of politicians was emerging. The millennial generation was looking for a seat at the table.
But Elise Stefanik is not just young and energetic, she is a centrist Republican who is proudly bipartisan. She points out that, “I am in the top 5% of the most bipartisan Members of Congress. I do have an independent record.”
And she has split with the President on key votes, saying she “always puts her district first”—like the 2017 tax reform bill where she was concerned about about the elimination of the deduction of the State and Local Tax provision which would have raised taxes for some of her constituents, and environmental bills that would negatively impact the Adirondacks.”
However, her hard work on behalf of her constituents has not gone unnoticed. She has sponsored key legislation to make Pell grants more flexible, and she has secured big wins for Ft. Drum, a large military installation in her district. In fact, President Trump visited Ft. Drum in 2018 to sign the reauthorization of the defense spending bill that was co-authored by Stefanik. This bill provided increased support for the military base and the community.
One of the most important roles Stefanik has played in Republican politics has been her leadership in recruiting women candidates and helping them get elected to Congress. There are 88 Democratic women serving in the House of Representatives in contrast to 13 Republican women. Stefanik recognizes that this is not reflective of reality. So for this election cycle, the NRCC and the Republican Party leadership have upped the ante. With groups like Stefanik’s Elevate-PAC leading the way, they are investing big dollars and recruiting the best women candidates to run for office.
Stefanik pointed out, “I’ve raised and donated more to Republican women running for Congress than any other member, including those in leadership, and we’ve really made the investment strategically going into this November.”
This kind of brash determination was also on display during last fall’s impeachment hearings, where Stefanik was front and center as a member of the House Intelligence Committee. During the public hearings, she openly condemned the process, sparred with Chairman Adam Schiff, and repeatedly criticized Democrats in the media for pursuing the impeachment against all the evidence. In fact, she caught the attention of President Trump who tweeted out “A new Republican Star is born. Great going @EliseStefanik!”
“What was very frustrating to me was to see the cherry-picked leaks from Adam Schiff,” she said, “and I think it was most important for the American people to know the truth and focus on the Constitutional issues related to impeachment rather than the overall opposition to the President’s policies.”
She continued, “I think the Democrats let their opposition and obsession with the President really impact their judgement and it has led to an abuse of power.”
You can be sure that this kind of outspokenness won her both praise and attacks. Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was quick to tweet out his support of her, but the number one trending topic for a week straight was #TrashyStefanik, a viral attack thrown at her by George Conway. However, Stefanik held firm saying, “I stood up for the truth, the Constitution and the American people.”
In the end, her ardent defense of the President won her a spot on the President’s impeachment defense team and garnered her even more support back home in her district. Even though her opponent was able to raise $2 million off the #TrashyStefanik, it didn’t come from constituents in NY-21 but from Hollywood types like Chelsea Handler and Rosie O’Donnell.
As the President’s leading female defender during impeachment, Elise Stefanik catapulted onto the national stage in 2020. Not only is she co-chairing the President’s reelection efforts in New York but last week she was given a speaking spot at the Republican National Convention.
She again put forth a passionate defense of the President saying, “President Trump has fought tirelessly to deliver results for all Americans, despite the Democrats’ baseless and illegal impeachment sham and the media’s endless obsession with it,”
She went on to say that, “I was proud to lead the effort standing up for the Constitution, President Trump, and most importantly the American people,” she continued, “This attack was not just on the president. It was an attack on you – your voice and your vote.”
There are those, including her opponent Tedra Cobb, who say that she is just using her new-found fame in the party to elevate her national profile. Rumors are even circulating that she could be considered for House Leadership or perhaps as a national candidate in 2024. I asked her what the future holds, and she remains non-committal except for her laser-like focus on winning reelection and serving the constituents in NY-21.
With some recent polling showing that only 6 points separates Trump from Biden, Stefanik and those like her hold the key to a durable Republican majority in America: the old alliance between Sunbelt and Western conservatives and northern Republicans must work together to fashion a strong defense against the temporary tide of leftist hatred of American ideals and embrace of anarchy and crime. Let us wish them (and all of us) luck.
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