Republican chairs back Stefanik for Owens' seat

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ALBANY—As expected, Republicans in the 21st Congressional District have designated Elise Stefanik as their preferred candidate for the seat now occupied by retiring Democratic Rep. Bill Owens.

“We appreciate the efforts put forth by all of our prospective candidates, and we are fortunate to have such individuals from which to select our next Member of Congress,” Essex County G.O.P. chairman Ron Jackson, said in a statement. “In the end, I think the results speak for themselves. Elise possesses the drive, small business experience, and institutional knowledge necessary to create jobs while faithfully representing the aspirations and values of North Country residents.”

A 29-year-old former White House aide, Stefanik was born in Willsboro and works for her family's plywood distribution business. She bested Joseph Gilbert and Michael Ring to secure the official blessing of the area's Republicans, which means party members from around the 12-county district will carry nominating petitions in support of her candidacy.

The chairs' declaration came after weeks of formal vetting, but it doesn't necessarily mean Republicans will avoid a primary.

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Gilbert, a retired Army major and tea party leader, told the Glens Falls Post-Star that he would launch his own petition effort. A candidate must gather the signatures of 1,250 enrolled Republicans to win a spot on the June primary ballot.

Matt Doheny, who has twice run unsuccessfully against Owens, has spent weeks gauging support for a run, and a poll released by a firm he has done business with in the past showed he would finish ahead of Stefanik in a head-to-head match-up. 

Doheny has been mum on whether or not he will mount a campaign.

Stefanik's campaign said it was “humbled” to win 87 percent of the weighted vote. She reported slightly more than $200,000 in her campaign account in the most recent FEC filing, and said the pace of fund-raising has increased since Owens, a Plattsburgh attorney, announced he would not seek re-election.

“We’re just getting started – I will continue working as hard as I ever have to earn the support of Republicans, Conservatives and Independents across the district to win this seat back,” Stefanik said in a statement. “I thank the county Chairs for the time and energy they've given during this process, and I thank the hundreds of county committee members who attended endorsement meetings during January to hear from the candidates.”

Democrats are considering five candidates, including one Republican—former Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava—who challenged and eventually endorsed Owens in 2009 from the Republican line. Democratic chairs will meet in Long Lake next week to conduct interviews, and announce their designee.